Wednesday, December 09, 2009

9 DEC 09: Takeoff or Landing

Tuesday began with positive news about the Columbus economy. It ended with negative news about the same economy. In short, it was a microcosm of the Atlanta Falcons football season....

The positive news came when the Columbus Chamber of Commerce called a news conference with an official from the Manpower employment agency. Normally Manpower issues a simple news release, with the results of its quarterly job survey. This made me wonder if the Chamber was paying to move a team of agency statisticians from up north.

But the news from Manpower was different. The agency's survey indicates Columbus will have the strongest job growth in the U.S. between January and March. One-fourth of all companies plan to add employees. Seven percent plan to reduce staff. And the rest will be too busy sorting through the health care reform bill to know for sure.

A Manpower spokesperson cited several explanations for the strong job outlook in Columbus. There's base realignment construction work at Fort Benning. The Kia plant in West Point continues to get rolling. And Marco's Pizza still hasn't opened any restaurants south of Macon Road.

Chamber of Commerce leaders were all smiles at the Manpower announcement - but in the afternoon things changed. Cessna Aircraft announced it will close its Columbus plants within two years. There's nothing like a grounded airplane or two to ruin your day.

Cessna had made several rounds of staff cuts at the three Columbus plants. Now the remaining 300 employees will be phased out - and since this is an aircraft company, I hope they all leave with golden parachutes.

A Cessna spokesperson says the company will move the Columbus operations to Kansas and Mexico. Kansas makes sense, since the company has its headquarters in Wichita - but Mexico?! Please don't tell me Cessna is being bought out by a drug cartel....

WTVM reported the Columbus Cessna employees will be offered severance packages. But maybe the Kia plant can pick them up - and we'll finally have that flying car they predicted on "The Jetsons" years ago.

The shutdown announcement comes only 16 months after Cessna opened a new plant in the Muscogee Technology Park, and promised to add jobs there. But even then, job cuts were underway at other locations. So don't trust the promises of an airplane company - because they could be simply pie in the sky.

Without even planning it, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce had an event Tuesday night to ease the Cessna blow - a year-end party for members of its young professionals group. The party theme was "It's a Wonderful Life." They certainly show that movie at the big job fair in early November....

Let's see what else made for a lively Tuesday:

+ Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater announced she's recommending a denial of Carlton Gary's latest appeal. Forget Tiger Woods's mother-in-law - I want to know if Slater's decision sent Gray Conger to the emergency room in shock.

+ Convicted armed robber Justin Lawson appeared before Columbus Council, asking for a pardon. But Councilors said they couldn't help him, because they don't know him personally. [True/WLTZ] Does this mean Mark Shelnutt had an escape route, if the jury had found him guilty?

+ Columbus Council also discussed the rules for the "rails to trails" path across the city. Councilor Glenn Davis suggested keeping the path open after sunset. But City Manager Isaiah Hugley indicated some residents near the trail are concerned about safety - which tells me hobos don't ride on local railroad cars anymore.

+ Ground was broken for a renovation of the historic Empire Building at 12th Street and First Avenue. Developer Craig Taylor needed close to a decade to prepare for the ceremony - in part to arrange financing, and in part to make sure shoveling dirt in the lobby wouldn't destabilize the building to cause an implosion.

(The plan for the Empire Building is to have apartments and condominiums on upper floors, with four businesses at street level. The building has one business now - and I'm waiting to see if the manager of Club Odyssey will file a sex discrimination complaint.)

+ Columbus car dealer and State Senator Emmanuel Jones told GPB News he's proposing a change in the "zero tolerance" policy for weapons at schools. Jones says districts should be allowed some discretion, in determining whether a student means to harm anyone. For instance, is the Northside High rifle team really going on a road trip to LaGrange?

+ Columbus State University held its fall commencement at the Civic Center. The May graduation will take place there as well, due to construction of the new student recreation center. It simply wouldn't look right for seniors to walk around in hard hats and gowns.

(WXTX "News at Ten" played video of the commencement ceremony, and I was stunned by how many shouts and cheers came from the audience. That would get you kicked out of Muscogee County high school graduation ceremonies. Don't these moms and dads grow up, while their children are at college?)

+ Auburn University suspended the FarmHouse Fraternity, accusing older members of hazing freshmen. The charges are embarrassing enough - but for this to happen at a fraternity named FarmHouse?! Were the pledges called "chicken" over and over?

+ The University of Alabama announced the start of spring semester will be postponed one week, due to the Bowl Championship Series title game. And then some people wonder why candidates for Governor consider higher education an issue....

(The University of Texas academic calendar doesn't even begin spring semester until after Martin Luther King Day. On top of that, the B.C.S. title game hasn't even made the news section of the university web site. Some football programs actually plan for success, and even expect it.)

+ Instant Message to Sarah Rainey of Auburn: I saw you on TV - getting that dream limousine ride at age 95. So how many energy drinks and beers did you down on the way to lunch?

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