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“IBM” Can Happen Again

Three Dudes in a Brew Pub

Part One:
“IBM” Can Happen Again

The following is one part of a multi-part series chronicling Donovan Wheeler’s conversation with two men running for local offices in Greencastle, Indiana.  They are Democrats in that Midwestern swath of red which often and easily goes to the other team.  So easily that, this year, the other team didn’t even show up for the debates.  In part one, Russell Harvey (running for Greencastle Township Trustee) and Matt Cummings (running for Putnam County’s 3rd District seat on the county council) talk about what’s at stake, right here on the streets of their community.

by Donovan Wheeler

Read Part Two Here (Click Link)

Read Part Three Here (Click Link)

Read Part Four Here (Click Link)

For one minute Matt Cummings would like everyone to pull their eyes away from Fox News.  Instead of watching every step made by the thousands of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence as they snake their way through Mexico… Rather than re-hash and hyper-analyze yet another pundit’s breakdown of “what went wrong” during the Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings… Matt Cummings would like to take you to Greencastle, Indiana.  He especially wants everyone to hop into his time machine, which he’s set to the “mid-ish 1980’s.”  That’s when one of the nation’s foremost corporate behemoths announced—suddenly—that they were shutting down operations.  In the span of a single “Carrier-esque” short meeting, the city lost nearly a thousand upper-income jobs.

We need elected officials who foresee the next IBM closure,” he says.  “And that’s what you have on today’s Democratic ticket—people who see this and want to prepare the community for it through the means of workforce development funding.”

Cummings wraps his fingers around the slender glass holding his pale ale with all the bravado of a small town Hoosier.  He is the reason that stereotypes are stupid.  Educated in Pennsylvania, he could easily amble to the stage of a downtown Philadelphia nightclub wearing his bass guitar over a tweed blazer and a pair of chinos.  But raised in the weeds next to tiny Bloomfield in Greene County, Indiana he’s also the sort of dude who can just as casually replace the water pump on a ’76 Explorer—his white undershirt scoured with grease and a half-warm Pabst waiting for him on a nearby cinderblock.

Around the corner of the table, Harvey gently rolls his fingertips along the sides of his Belgian stout.  The father of two grown daughters, he sits patiently while Cummings lays out what’s at stake for this part of the Midwest.  When Harvey agrees with his cohort, he nods…his eyes looking off to some thought beyond the surface of the table.  When Cummings shifts from strident urgency to a full-on, smartass-level rant, Harvey slips a wry grin.  When his turn comes, he’ll speak.  For now, Cummings is lighting up the room.  No need shut that down quite yet.

“There are people with access to income looking for a place to live.  And where are they looking?  They’re coming to Greencastle.”

“My background is in Urban Theory as an undergrad and graduate student,” Cummings explains. “I studied city and community development.  I would consider myself to be an amateur urban theorist, but it is still something I’ve studied a great deal.  And there’s a few things we’ve got to think about in the context of Putnam County.”

“One is the population explosion in Indy.  Think of a target… Indy’s the bullseye.  Hendricks County is the next circle around the bullseye, and Putnam County is the third circle.  The bullseye is full.  Housing is full.  There are jobs there, but not many places for people to live.  Eventually, Hendricks County is full.  Putnam County…?  Not full.  That means there are people with access to income looking for a place to live.  And where are they looking?  Are they looking to Fishers, Carmel, Martinsville, Monrovia…? In the next five years those markets are going to be maxed out.”

“So they’re coming to Greencastle,” he continues.  “The new Woods Edge development is exploding.  We see Zinc Mill Road in three or four years at full capacity.”

“So what are those people wanting?  Roads (they’ve got to drive on them), high speed Internet, and housing.”

“And they need viable places to live,” Cummings concludes.  “They want to know that we don’t care if someone is LGTBQ (which is one reason hate-crime laws are important).  As young parent living in the city, I moved here because there are lot of cool things going on here.  This city and county have a lot to market.  Our outdoor experiences such as hiking and camping and our live music environment here in town are two examples.”

“We need to elect people who are going to be able to put you into a job that cannot be replaced by a machine.”

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Harvey interjects, not so much redirecting as “appending” the point:  “And we also have to look at the people who are already here as well.  As a trustee, I would be largely responsible for check-writing.  In that respect, we have a lot currently available programs which—if well-funded—can help people…from teaching folks to maintain a budget to teaching them welding.  There’s also a direct link between poverty and substance abuse, so we have to consider how we address these problems from both ends.”

Nodding, Cummings raises his finger in front of him—that international sign language that says, ‘Let me finish this swig, then I’ll talk.’  When he begins, his mind is still on the digital world that awaits us.

“I work in the technology industry now,” he says.  “Automation is coming fast.  By 2025 we’re going to see drones conducting soil tests and self-driving tractors working the fields all night while farmers are sleeping. We’re talking huge tech advances in agriculture. What does mean if our farmers don’t have access to high-speed wifi?  Are we going to provide the infrastructure to allow local farmers to remain competitive when this market goes wide open? Or are we going to do nothing and watch them all be bought out?”

“And what’s going to happen to our transportation industry when Walmart’s trucks are all self-driving?  If you don’t think that’s a reality, you’re wrong.  In 2025…I guarantee it.”

“Those are people without jobs,” he adds.  “From a Republican/Conservative/Capitalist perspective that’s not a bad thing.  That’s creative-destruction economics.”

“So the question before us is how do we best prepare ourselves for what’s coming here?  How do we prepare for the emerging technology?”

“We need to elect people who understand where the world is and where the world is going.  Because that will allow us to set policies which are going to prepare citizens to be prepared for the future.  And what I mean by that is this:  There’s a lot of data and theory behind that [predicted] year of 2025 when it comes to automation.  It’s not a random number by any means.  Consequently, we need to elect people who are going to be able to put you into a job that cannot be replaced by a machine.”

It’s easy to mistake Cummings’ and Harvey’s words as a message driven by fear.  No doubt critics will write them off, assuming that it’s always better to take that oft-used “wait and see” stance before embracing something which smacks of Chicken Little.  But “fear” is far from the word these men would use.  Urgency…certainly.  Caution…probably.  Precaution…?  Absolutely.  And even though the details and particulars are bound to vary as the future becomes the present, the larger idea that technology and disruption will wreak havoc for those unprepared is a better-than-safe call.

–Next Time:  Matt and Russell discuss the need to address addiction and the continuing opioid crisis.

About Donovan Wheeler

Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for other publications.

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