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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Investing in Lucas County

SOMETIMES, unique times call for unique responses. Such was the case this week when the Lucas County commissioners voted to loan a local firm $1.5 million to help it reopen a shuttered auto-parts manufacturer and save as many as 150 jobs in the next 12 months.

There s no question but that investing in any aspect of the auto industry is a risky business these days. Rising gas prices and changing driving habits have created a weak auto market, especially for trucks and sport-utility vehicles. But the commissioners did the right thing when they decided to help reopen the former Ford Stamping Plant.

Keith Obey, chairman and CEO of Maumee Authority Stamping, has been working diligently for months to put together $3 million in operating cash from private and employee investors, after which a private investor is expected to buy the plant and its equipment and lease them to Maumee Authority Stamping.

The plant produced metal and plastic parts for the auto industry for three decades and as recently as two years ago employed more than 600 full-time workers. It closed last fall as part of a Ford Motor Corp. restructuring.

The financial risk appears small, and the county is even in line to make about $115,000 in interest on the loan, which is expected to be repaid before the end of the year. In a rare bit of cooperation, the loan was backed by Commissioners Pete Gerken and Ben Konop, who usually find themselves of the opposite sides of every discussion.

If there was ever a time for us to think outside the box, to use innovative ideas to put people to work, it s now, Mr. Konop told The Blade s Alex Parker, and we agree.

Commissioner Konop also suggested using the interest generated by the loan to fund high-tech fellowships to place students, recent graduates, and displaced workers with local cutting-edge industries for six months to provide them on-the-job training and support for burgeoning technology and alternative energy companies.

We urge the commissioners to give this idea serious consideration.

Two hundred jobs may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but it s a start.

By investing in the people of Lucas County, the commissioners are demonstrating their faith in the energy, resourcefulness, and work ethic of the people they serve and setting an example that we could all follow to our mutual benefit.

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