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 Post subject: Huckabee visits Elkhart where 20% are unemployed
PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2009 6:59 am 
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http://www.indystar.com/article/2009032 ... /903230363

March 23, 2009
Huckabee say Elkhart still has plenty of heart

Associated Press
ELKHART, Ind. -- Mike Huckabee says he found surprising resiliency during a visit to economically stricken Elkhart.

The former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate brought his Fox News talk show to the northern Indiana city of 52,000 Saturday for a special edition called "Huckabee: Save This Town."

"A lot of people thought we were showing up for a city's funeral," Huckabee told the crowd of about 500 that gathered for the taping in the Recreational Vehicle/Motor Home Hall of Fame. "When we got here, we found a strong pulse and canceled the memorial service."

Huckabee is the latest political figure to be drawn by the plight of the city hard hit by cuts in its once-bustling RV industry. President Barack Obama visited the city last month after the local jobless rate jumped to 19.2 percent in January -- nearly triple the rate from the same time last year and among the nation's highest. Lines often stretch out the door at local unemployment offices, which have extended hours to accommodate the flood of people looking for work and filing benefit claims.

Earlier this month, the relief agency Feed the Children distributed $2.1 million in food and personal care products in Elkhart. Hundreds of people waited in cars to collect donations, enough to sustain more than 5,000 families for a week.

Still, Huckabee said he found plenty of heart in the community that bills itself as the "city with a heart."

"I have not sensed that the prevailing spirit in Elkhart is pessimism," he said. "The prevailing sense is one of optimism, that you will rebound from this and come out, in the long run, better."

His optimistic outlook was contagious to the crowd, which sat through the hourlong taping featuring interviews with Mayor Dick Moore and businessmen, questions from preselected members of the audience and a performance by "The Little Elkharts" -- a band of local musicians and Huckabee.

"Maybe we can also be the poster child for taking steps for positive change," said Carol Willis, interim development director at Church Community Services.

Guests said the city has a world-class labor force and could get back to work if banks would resume lending to manufacturers, retailers and consumers. They also spoke of the need to diversify the local economy so it isn't so dependent on the RV industry.

Doug Lantz, founder of Evergreen RV, a manufacturer that started up about a year ago, said RV shows around the country are drawing big crowds.

"The credit thing is the number one issue," Lantz said. "We know the demand is there, we just need to free up money and get people to finance these RVs."

The city did get one dose of good news Friday, when officials learned it will receive $6.4 million in federal economic stimulus funding a day after Moore told Gov. Mitch Daniels the city needed help fast. The money includes $4.2 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to rehabilitate a runway at the Elkhart Municipal Airport and $2.25 million in neighborhood stabilization funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"We've got a willing, able, ready workforce here," Moore said. "But it's obvious we need a little bit of help."

Huckabee, however, saw government as part of the cause of economic problems. He closed his show by criticizing economic policy decisions made by the president and Congress and said Obama should fire Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"Elkhart will thrive again, not because of the federal government, but in spite of it," Huckabee said. "Being here makes me want to buy an RV, get in it and see a lot more of America and a lot less of Washington."

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