Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Keep attentive eye on Cummins

March 29, 2014

Last week’s announcement that Cummins would build a headquarters for its global distribution division in downtown Indianapolis was deservedly welcomed for its potential to house as many as 400 well-paid workers and add an “architecturally significant” building to a reserved skyline.

But the positive announcement also exposes an unnerving reality: Fortune 500 companies consider all options when they evaluate where to place their best jobs, and some even will uproot their entire headquarters if they see compelling economic or transportation-related reasons to do so.

Fortunately, Cummins is a stand-out corporate citizen that says it remains firmly committed to its southern Indiana home of Columbus. But the fact it decided to put the divisional headquarters here shows the old assumptions about where large companies locate their best-paid workers no longer apply.

Consider that Cummins is increasingly a global creature, making travel to and from its small hometown problematic. Finding talent also is difficult because new college grads tend to prefer large cities. And involvement of the Miller family, for decades crucial to Cummins’ success, is waning. The strongest local cheerleaders are dying off, particularly with the 2004 passing of legendary Chairman J. Irwin Miller.

Major headquarters have pulled out of the state before. Lincoln National insurance left Fort Wayne for the brighter lights of Philadelphia and Ball Corp. abandoned Muncie and its historic glass jar business for the front range of Colorado and a future in technology.

To be clear, Cummins shows no evidence of wanting to leave. It seems contentedly grounded where Clessie Cummins powered his way into diesel engine manufacturing nearly a century ago. We join with Columbus leaders in hoping it stays and prospers.

However, civic and government leaders as high as the governor shouldn’t take the headquarters for granted. They should be alert and attentive to the company’s needs, because keeping a home office is far easier than growing a new one.

Upset more apple carts

Speaking of entrepreneurial companies, the state could use more visionaries like Zeke Turner, whose nursing home development business Mainstreet Property Group and HealthLease Properties REIT are growing quickly.

The 36-year-old, profiled by J.K. Wall in last week’s IBJ, is shaking up the staid nursing home business by impolitely building locations near competitors and spouting ideas faster than the competitors can criticize them. They fear him so much that they nearly persuaded the Republican-dominated Legislature this year to cap construction of new homes.

Turner has much at risk. He isn’t without leverage and he has yet to show he can succeed in operating the homes—just one of the branches he’s pursuing. Failure is certainly possible, as of course it is with any venture.

Yet he deserves encouragement rather than arrows in the back. Indiana has struggled with sluggish wage growth in recent decades largely because too few entrepreneurs and executives have thought big ideas and challenged the status quo.•

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Send comments on this editorial to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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