Janita has a bachelor's degree in communication from Florida State University and a master's in journalism from the University of Georgia.

A former Poynter Institute Media Management fellow, Janita minored in French in college and has studied Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and Madrid, Spain, and German in Zurich, Switzerland. 

An award-winning journalist, she has worked as a staff writer for four major metropolitan newspapers and bureau chief/editor for two large online news organizations.

Copies of Janita's news clips are available upon request.

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REVISITING 'Bombingham'

DATE: May 11, 2002 
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Home; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

As the workday comes to a close in Alabama's largest city, a local TV newscast gives updates on, among other events, the latest church bombing trial. Sprinkled between the news segments, commercials peddle cars, aspirin -- and Birmingham.

The local Chamber of Commerce is spending $1 million to sell the merits of Birmingham to Birminghamians. The campaign, launched in January, reaches the metro area by TV, radio and the Internet, and is designed to improve residents' self-esteem.

Such a move would never occur to Atlanta boosters, who accept their city's desirability as fact. But in Birmingham, site of some of the rawest conflicts of the civil rights era -- and where a suspect in the notorious church bombing of 1963 is on trial -- it's a pragmatic step.

"Here in Birmingham there is a fair amount of hand-wringing and soul-searching over issues of image," said David Adkisson, who has headed the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce for the past two years. "We put all of our ad dollars in the Birmingham market because we felt that the issue of self-image is more important than image."

The "Living the Dream" ad campaign, a reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous speech, turns attention from the violent racism of Birmingham's past to the residents who fought for their rights: "men, women, children of courage and hope."

With testimonials from residents who promote, for example, the area's art school and medical center, the ads urge Birminghamians to "remember the roots" and "live the dream."

Not like the image

The ad campaign stands in stark contrast to the trial of 72-year-old former Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry, accused in the murder of four young girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a black congregation. Opening argument is expected next week.

The trial did not dominate the news in Birmingham this week. Residents seemed more wrapped up in the upcoming governor's election and Friday's execution of cop killer Lynda Lyon Block. Local newspapers and TV gave pretrial proceedings a nod, but little more.

That may be attributed, in part, to the fact that the 1963 bombing has been in the news for a long, long time. Cherry is the third defendant to be tried in the case; a fourth suspect died without being charged. In all, Birmingham has been through a series of investigations and trials in the bombing over the last 39 years.

Filmmaker Spike Lee brought renewed national attention to the bombing with his 1997 documentary "4 Little Girls."

Birmingham has changed a lot since 1963. The metropolitan area boasts one of the top medical centers in the country, a banking industry surpassed in the South only by Charlotte's, and a growing auto manufacturing segment that includes a Mercedes-Benz plant.

But continued focus on the bombing has inevitably kept alive the city's stigma as "Bombingham." That has led to a certain amount of defensiveness, and even denial.

"Birmingham is far different from the image," said Culpepper Clark, a historian at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, who is white. "But of course, the legacy and image are always there, and I think that makes a lot of people, if not want to forget, at least not want to remember.

"A lot of people feel if you keep bringing it up, you are bringing up that legacy and we can't move on."

Taking the pledge

One remarkable thing about the chamber's image campaign, with its injunction to "remember the roots," is that it doesn't ignore the legacy. Rather than gloss over the past, the ads seek to come to terms with it.

The campaign acknowledges diversity and progress by showing successful black people and white people enjoying work and play.

Jim Rotch, a white Birmingham lawyer, says his city will be able to move on only if it learns to talk more openly about race. Rotch is author of the Birmingham Pledge, a vow that states, in part: "From this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions. I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity."

Citizens who sign the pledge can mail it to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for display in a permanent exhibit.

"A lot of people think racism will go away if we don't talk about it," said Rotch, 57. "To eliminate racism from our society, we have to bring it out and talk about it."

From the perspective of some black Alabamians, the discussion still needs to be translated into action.

Hiawatha Draper, 64,a retired postal worker, recalls a time when friends up north joked about his city. "They couldn't understand how I could live in a place like that."

Draper says the city hasn't redeemed itself yet. Most whites segregate themselves in the suburbs and still do not accept African-Americans, he said. "They won't come and live in Birmingham."

Horace Huntley, director of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's oral history project, said whites and blacks in Birmingham generally see the Cherry case quite differently. Whites tend to view the Cherry trial as a final chapter, a move to bring justice to the wrongs of the civil rights era, he said. In contrast, many blacks think the trial is too little, too late -- an event that provides cover for avoiding more pressing problems of urban poverty.

"I don't think the Cherry case will allow Birmingham to say now we've gotten beyond this and we can move forward," said Huntley, a Birmingham native. "There are still a lot of issues that we need to address, such as economic inequities."

Battles for freedom

If Cherry's trial doesn't end Birmingham's struggle with race, it does, at long last, conclude the bombing case.

And that fact could allow the city's residents to "remember the roots" -- and address chronic problems -- without obsessing about stigmas of the past.

"Birmingham was a battle ground for freedom," said Clark. "It was like Gettysburg to the Civil War. It was the place where important things happened.

"And that will never be forgotten."

Photo: The city's Vulcan statue (shown under restoration in 1999) celebrates its history of iron and steel production. / CHARLES NESBIT / Birmingham News

Photo: A statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. faces the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963. / MARK HUMPHREY / Associated Press

Photo: The fountain in the Five Points South area is part of the charm of Alabama's largest city. Birmingham is trying to improve its citizens' self-image with an unusual ad campaign. / PHILIPO BARR / Birmingham News

Photo: The shot above is part of the city's ad campaign. The photo at left shows the scene of the deadly 1963 bombing.

Photo: TOM SELF / Birmingham News

Population: 558,928
Major industry: iron and steel
Black residents: 37 percent
Black Undergrads at University of Alabama or Birmingham: 0

Population: 921,106
Major Industry: iron and steel
Black residents: 30 percent
Black undergrads at UAB: 

Birmingham in the 1950s and '60s did not fare so well as its longtime rival, Atlanta. Though both cities had racial problems, those in Birmingham often involved violence that got national headlines and hurt the city's image. Birmingham's growth picked up in the 1990s. Today the University of Alabama at Birmingham is the area's top employer.

1861-65: Small ironworks built in Jones Valley, Ala., to support the Civil War.

1871: Ten men buy 4,150 acres and name their settlement after the world's largest industrial center: Birmingham, England.

1873: Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is organized by former slaves.

1900: With 38,415 residents, Birmingham becomes Alabama's largest city. (Atlanta population: 89,872)

1920s: The Ku Klux Klan gains influence in Birmingham. Authorities tolerate violence against blacks.

1925: The federal government picks Atlanta over Birmingham as its airmail service stop between New York and Miami.

1930: The nation's demand for iron and steel declines with the Great Depression. As a one-industry town, Birmingham is "the hardest-hit city in the nation," President Herbert Hoover says.

1945: The University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center opens.

1950: Metro Birmingham population reaches 558,928. (Metro Atlanta: 671,979)

1956: Nat "King" Cole, the popular African-American entertainer and native of Alabama, is attacked onstage by whites in Birmingham.

1957: Black civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and his wife are attacked when they try to enroll their daughter in an all-white public school.

1961: The first Freedom Riders arrive at Birmingham's Trailways bus terminal and are attacked by gangs of whites.
1963: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leads peaceful demonstrations that are attacked by Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor's fire-hose-wielding forces. The spectacle pushes the nation toward desegregation. Under arrest, King writes his inspirational "Letter From Birmingham Jail." . . . A dynamite bomb explodes outside Sunday services at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing Denise McNair, 11, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, all 14, and injuring 20. Birmingham becomes known as "Bombingham."
1965: An FBI memorandum concludes the bombing was the work of Ku Klux Klansmen Robert Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash and Thomas Blanton Jr.
1968: The FBI closes its investigation of the church bombing without filing charges.
1971: Birmingham becomes the first U.S. city in which industrial plants are closed under federal law during an air pollution crisis. . . . Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopens the investigation of the church bombing.
1976: The Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center opens.
1977: Chambliss is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
1979: Voters elect Richard Arrington the city's first black mayor.
1980: A Justice Department report concludes former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover blocked prosecution of the Klansmen in 1965.
1985: Blacks gain a majority on the Birmingham City Council. . . . Chambliss dies in prison, professing innocence.
1986: The 34-story SouthTrust Building, Alabama's tallest office building, is completed.
1990: Metro Birmingham population reaches 755,580. (Metro Atlanta: 3.0 million)
1993: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opens.
1993: Birmingham-area black leaders meet with the FBI, and agents secretly begin a new review of the bombing case.
1994: The Chicago White Sox assign baseball-dabbling Michael Jordan to the Class AA Birmingham Barons.
1994: Cash dies.
1997: Cherry is interrogated in Texas. The FBI investigation becomes public knowledge.
1998: A Birmingham abortion clinic is bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph is a suspect, and later becomes one in the Atlanta Olympic bombing as well. . . . A federal grand jury in Alabama begins hearing evidence in the church bombing.
2000: Metro Birmingham population reaches 921,106. (Metro Atlanta: 4.1 million) . . . Blanton and Cherry surrender on murder indictments.
2001: Blanton is convicted of murder and sentenced to life.
2002: Cherry's trial begins.
-- Staff research by Jennifer Ryan

How white is right?

DATE: November 4, 2001 
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Home; The Atlanta Journal Constitution 

Nashville--A commitment to boost minority enrollment helps ensure that public money keeps flowing into a sprawling 89-year-old university.

So when recruiters speak at high schools, they stress that minority students need only a 2.5 grade-point average and a 19 average, out of a possible 36, on the ACT to attend for free.That frustrates students like Raven Winters, who needed a 3.0 GPA and an ACT score of at least 21 just to be considered for her scholarship.

"They're sacrificing the academic standards just to say they have a little diversity here," complained Winters, an English major from East St. Louis, Ill.

Winters' school is not a predominantly white college embroiled in a discrimination case, like the University of Georgia or the University of Texas. It is Tennessee State University, a historically black college. And the minority students getting preferential treatment here are white.

Just as once-segregated white colleges grappled with issues of fairness and legality while trying to recruit minorities, Tennessee State and America's 38 other historically black, public four-year colleges are struggling to create greater diversity on their campuses. That means luring whites.

Unlike historically white schools, however, colleges like Tennessee State must also confront emotionally charged questions about the purpose of "separate but equal" schools in 21st-century America. Do "black" colleges still have value for African- Americans and the country, or should all public colleges work toward a diverse student body that matches the states that support them?

At Tennessee State, two professors, one black and one white, embody those opposing attitudes. But they have found enough common ground to help resolve a 32-year-old legal battle over discrimination within Tennessee's higher education system. The suit was settled in January, with the state agreeing to spend $75 million to improve inferior campuses and to strengthen schools' diversity plans.Raymond Richardson, 62, an African-American math professor who has taught at Tennessee State and nearby Fisk University since 1965, says historically black institutions never excluded whites and, therefore, should not be forced to give up structures where blacks can call their own shots.

We "don't have the same history," said Richardson, who with a white colleague co-chaired a desegregation committee for TSU. "We didn't stand in the door like George Wallace." In fact, said M. Christopher Brown, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, whites were not only welcome at black colleges, but often helped operate them.

"The laws of restriction only went one way," said Brown, author of "The Quest to Define Collegiate Desegregation."Richardson does not oppose a more-integrated TSU. He said he just wants the school to continue to focus primarily on educating a population that still is underrepresented in the collegiate and professional worlds."

If white people came in addition to black folks, the tradition wouldn't be lost," he said. "Notre Dame's tradition isn't lost by non-Catholic students coming there. That's because Catholics still run the school and maintain their traditions at the school."

Richardson's co-chairman, friend and colleague Coleman "Coley" McGinnis, 58, a white TSU political science professor, has a different view.

McGinnis says the United States will never have equality as long is it maintains separate institutions for whites and minorities.

"In the ideal world, people won't be choosing where to go to school because of the color of their skin," said McGinnis. Whether historically black TSU or predominantly white Middle Tennessee State University in nearby Murfreesboro, McGinnis said, state colleges should "reflect the composition of the areas they are designed to serve."

Bucking history

The first black colleges began before the end of the Civil War and were privately run by white abolitionists who wanted to help educate freed slaves. During the Jim Crow era, the schools' numbers increased as Southern and border states began opening racially segregated "land grant" colleges, some for whites and others for blacks.

According to the United Negro College Fund, there are 105 historically black colleges and universities -- known among educators as HBCUs -- in the United States, all but nine formed before 1954. Of that number, 39 are public four-year institutions.Private institutions, like religious schools or Atlanta's historically black Clark Atlanta University and Morris Brown, Morehouse and Spelman colleges, have some leeway to target certain groups.

But the 1964 Civil Rights Act dictates that public colleges and universities cannot discriminate.As a result, over the last four decades the 19 states with historically black public universities have encountered political and legal pressure to create more diversity on their campuses.

A variety of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against "dual systems" in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee; all four states are now implementing desegregation settlements. Filed in 1968, the Tennessee lawsuit, brought by TSU faculty member Rita Sanders Geier and later joined by the federal government, claimed the state was violating federal law by maintaining a segregated system of higher education.The plaintiffs and the state's higher education system came to an agreement in 1984.

 It mandated that TSU develop a plan for its undergraduate student body to become half black and half white. It also allocated $130 million in funding for building renovations, faculty recruitment and academic program improvement.The university was fairly successful in integrating. In 1991, the school's white undergraduate enrollment reached about 30 percent. But after the mid-1990s, white enrollment declined.

This fall, TSU's undergraduate student body is 15 percent white.In 1999, after years of motions from different factions represented by Richardson, McGinnis and other faculty, a federal judge appointed Atlanta lawyer Carlos Gonzalez to mediate the case. All parties came to agreement in January.

The settlement aims to increase diversity, improve academic offerings and equalize facilities between TSU and the half-dozen other public universities in Tennessee.TSU President James Hefner said the state's universities have a new philosophy about integration. The focus will be on improving the faculty, courses and facilities so that "everyone will want to come."

"How do you attract white students, or any students for that matter, to a campus? Well, you build more buildings and improve your programs," said Hefner, 60, former chairman of Morehouse College's economics department. "But you cannot mandate where students go. What you do is provide access."'Stipends' for whitesStill, minority scholarships for whites will continue. The tuition, room and board scholarship -- worth about $5,400 for 2001-02 -- is given to about 250 white students every year.Some students and faculty members say TSU shouldn't spend thousands of dollars a year to entice white students to attend."I'm not against any race attending an HBCU," said Damyon Thompson, 21, a black computer science senior and student government president. But "whites in the community may not want to come here. If they are not coming because of their own free will and personal interest, I don't think the scholarships are a good thing."Other students and faculty oppose the minority scholarships because the academic standards are lower than those for other TSU scholarships.TSU records show at least 19 of the 99 first-time students receiving minority scholarships had ACT scores of 19, and at least 24 had high school GPAs of 2.50 to 2.80.Hefner said the minority scholarships were not designed to recognize academic achievement. "These are stipends," Hefner said, "to get more white students to consider TSU." Like Tennessee's, the dual-system settlements in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all include scholarships to lure white students to black schools.Crystal Forcier, a white freshman from nearby Smyrna, said the scholarship was a "plus" but not the primary reason she choose TSU. Forcier, 18, who wants to major in physical therapy or nursing, said she decided to attend TSU because "it was close to home and I was told by many people that it had the best nursing program in the state."Some students, however, see whites like Forcier as a threat to Tennessee State's black heritage. At a freshman pep rally earlier this year, Forcier said, some black seniors shouted that "whites don't belong at this school.""It did make me a little nervous," said Forcier.Still, Forcier said her overall experience at TSU has been good and that she has no interest in transferring to another school. "A lot of people here are really nice, and they always say hello," said Forcier. "I've enjoyed being here thoroughly."Majority-white HBCUsOther whites are choosing historically black schools for such reasons as price, location and academic offerings.According to the 2002 edition of The Princeton Review, three of the public, four-year HBCUs are now majority-white: Lincoln University in Missouri, 57 percent; West Virginia State College, 86 percent; and Bluefield State College, 89 percent.Others with sizable white enrollment include the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Delaware State University, Savannah State University in Georgia, Kentucky State University, Bowie State University in Maryland, Elizabeth City State College and Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina and Langston University in Oklahoma.At the same time, historically black schools are attracting a shrinking share of African-American undergrads, as minority students take advantage of opportunities at other schools.Some educators fear further integration will hinder blacks as they strive to achieve educational and professional equality.Richardson, who said he has spent his "adult life thinking about" college desegregation, said black schools are important not just for tradition but also for the role they play in graduating African-Americans, particularly in areas where they are generally underrepresented, such as aerospace studies, engineering and foreign languages.Famous TSU graduates include Jesse Russell, a pioneer in the development of cellular telephones; Xerona Clayton, retired corporate vice president of CNN; Harvey Johnson, mayor of Jackson, Miss.; Harvard University neurophysiologist Dr. S. Allen Counter; columnist Carl Rowan; Wilmer Cooksey, general manager of the only Corvette plant in the United States; Dr. Levi Watkins, a cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins University who invented an automatic defibrillator; and entertainment mogul and TV host Oprah Winfrey.Integration racist?"I'm for increasing black opportunity," said Richardson, who was raised on a farm outside Memphis and has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from historically black Rust College in Mississippi and a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in Nashville."I want black students to go to Harvard, to Ohio State, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. But I also want them to come to Grambling and Jackson State and TSU and Fisk and Spelman. Because those schools represent the base of educational opportunity" for black students.Against the backdrop of pride in TSU's heritage, McGinnis, who has degrees from the University of the South and the University of Virginia, was labeled a "racist" for wanting to integrate TSU. "I've learned you can't divorce any of this from this country's 400-year history of race," he said.Still, McGinnis has not wavered from his view that public colleges shouldn't be associated with race. "Eventually, I want African-Americans not to feel the need to hold on to these institutions," said McGinnis. "Ultimately, I'd like to see a society in which race doesn't matter. I'm going to be long dead before getting there. But it doesn't mean I'm not going to try."For now, TSU and other public HBCUs will continue the difficult balancing act of meeting blacks' needs, while at the same time pushing forward with integration.> ON THE WEB: For more information about historically black schools: Richard Hallman contributed to this article.

Graphic: Tennessee State University

Black: 83%White: 15%Other: 1%Source: The Princeton Review / ELIZABETH LANDT / StaffPhoto: Virginia Bowlin adjusts a mortarboard before having her yearbook photo made at Tennessee State University. Bowlin, an English major who resides on the Nashville campus, graduates next year with a teacher certification./ JOEY IVANSCO / StaffPhoto: Political scientist Coleman McGinnis (left) and mathematician Raymond Richardson led a Tennessee State University committee that worked out a settlement of a lawsuit claiming discrimination in higher education in Tennessee./ JOEY IVANSCO / StaffGraphic: FOUR-YEAR, HISTORICALLY BLACK PUBLIC COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIESSchool.....................................................Per-...........................................................cent-.......................................Year....Undergrad...age...................................... opened..enrollment..blackALABAMAAlabama A&M University................ 1875.....4,303......92%Alabama State University.............. 1867.....4,348......92%ARKANSASUniversity of Arkansas, Pine Bluff.... 1873.....3,425......82%DELAWAREDelaware State University..............1891.....2,910......80%DISTRICT OF COLUMBIAHoward University......................1867.....6,099......75%FLORIDAFlorida A&M University................ 1887....10,691......95%GEORGIAAlbany State University................1903.....2,935......95%Fort Valley State University.......... 1902.....2,124......93%Savannah State University..............1890.....2,822......81%KENTUCKYKentucky State University..............1886.....2,129......64%LOUISIANAGrambling State University............ 1901.....4,260......97%Southern University, Baton Rouge...... 1880.....7,976......95%Southern University, New Orleans...... 1959.....4,500.......naMARYLANDBowie State University................ 1865.....2,960......75%Coppin State College.................. 1900.....3,213......98%Morgan State University................1867.....5,356......94%University of Maryland, Eastern Shore..1886.....2,704......80%MISSISSIPPIAlcorn State University................1871.....2,555......94%Jackson State University.............. 1877.....5,471......99%Mississippi Valley State University....1950.....2,358......97%MISSOURIHarris-Stowe State College............ 1857.....1,723......75%Lincoln University.................... 1866.....3,128......39%NORTH CAROLINAElizabeth City State College.......... 1891.....1,937......75%North Carolina A&T State University....1891.....6,850......93%North Carolina Central University......1910.....4,057......92%Winston-Salem State University........ 1892.....2,865......80%OHIOCentral State University.............. 1887.....1,101......96%OKLAHOMALangston University....................1897.....3,864......54%PENNSYLVANIACheyney University.................... 1837.....1,132......98%Lincoln University.................... 1854.....1,576......98%SOUTH CAROLINASouth Carolina State University........1896.....4,911......93%TENNESSEETennessee State University............ 1912.....7,277......83%TEXASPrairie View A&M University............1878.....5,285......95%Texas Southern University..............1949.....8,832......84%VIRGINIANorfolk State University.............. 1935.....5,890......92%Virginia State University..............1882.....3,499......97%VIRGIN ISLANDSUniversity of the Virgin Islands........ na.....2,538......76%WEST VIRGINIABluefield State College................1895.....2,648......10%West Virginia State University........ 1891.....4,530......13%*Percentages may not add up to 100% because student reporting of race is voluntary.Sources: Urban Education, The Princeton Review,

Government leaders in the South liberally use taxpayer funds to attract lucrative auto plants

BYLINE:    Janita Poe; Staff 
DATE: April 8, 2001 
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: Home; The Atlanta Journal Constitution 
SECTION: Business 
MEMO: Introduction to the 2001 Southern Economic Survey.

The steady growth of the automotive industry in the South over the last two decades, for manufacturers and government leaders alike, comes down to one critical resource: workers.

Workers with no bad memories of layoffs, strikes and other labor conflicts.Workers who earn more than $20 an hour while collectively pumping millions of dollars back into local and state economies, albeit at high front-end costs in the form of generous government incentives for the factory owners.Workers like Janis Stottlemyre, a production line employee at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn. She had been laid off three times from her old factory job when she read in a newspaper about jobs at Nissan. She has been with Nissan since 1991 and no longer fears losing her job."I have a lot of job security here," said Stottlemyre, 45, during a break from installing dashes in the Nissan Xterra sport-utility vehicle. "I'm putting my daughter through college, and I have more money now."Since the late 1970s, more than a dozen major automobile manufacturers have established factories south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The plants -- ranging from luxury automakers Mercedes and BMW to American mainstays General Motors and Ford -- now produce a fourth of all U.S.-made cars and light-weight trucks. These Southern factories employ a fifth of all workers in the industry.In 1999, these plants and related companies employed 1.4 million workers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.Executives of the carmaking corporations decided on the South for a variety of reasons. By relocating or establishing plants here, the automotive industry -- long a key thread in the economic fabric of the Midwest -- gained a chance at a fresh start with workers, facilities, government alliances and corporate cultures. And, the companies have been able to produce more cars and make greater profits, industry executives say, because of the region's supportive business environment.While bringing growth, however, the trend also brings greater exposure in times of economic uncertainty.University of Georgia Economist Jeffrey Humphreys points out that in economic downturns, the auto industry, along with other manufacturing interests, can suffer greatly."The automobile industry is a very cyclical industry, and any community that has a large auto plant is more vulnerable to fluctuations in the business cycle," said Humphreys, director of UGA's Selig Center for Economic Growth. "During an expansion, it's a good thing, but during a recession, activity drops off pretty steeply. It cuts both ways."Still, many government officials in the South see growth of the auto industry as a boost to the region's economy and well-being. State leaders have long fought negative perceptions -- about the South's culture, lingering racial animosity and a poorly educated population. And there have been other economic realities -- an agrarian economy, too many unskilled workers and an infrastructure unsuitable for large industry.Last year in Jackson, Miss., the state Legislature created "Advantage Mississippi," an economic development program. Then the state agreed to allocate $295 million for job training and other incentives to attract industrial recruits.Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said the financial inducements also attempt to counter lingering concerns about image and capacity for economic development in Mississippi.State leaders lobbied hard for a new Nissan manufacturing facility. Their efforts worked. Groundbreaking for construction of the $930 million plant was held Friday. The first Nissans made in Mississippi are scheduled to roll off the assembly line in the summer of 2003."It (the auto industry) will literally transform Mississippi," said Musgrove, a Democrat who took office Jan. 11, 2000. "It will take us from being perceived as a small, rural, agricultural state to one that can handle a project of this magnitude and participate on a world playing field."Robert Hitt, a spokesman for BMW in Greer, S.C., said Southern political leaders began addressing negative issues during the 1960s by improving infrastructure, developing strong technical training programs and, eventually, crafting strong economic incentive programs to attract auto manufacturing and other industries. In addition, he said, leaders went outside the United States, where people were less biased about America's South, to recruit new businesses."The issue that drove this was the desire to change the economy of the entire South from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, in order to create a middle class," Hitt said. "In order to do this you have to train people, and you have to get certain types of industry here."Hitt said executives of his company decided to open the first BMW plant outside of Germany by selecting the Southeast. They narrowed the choice to the Spartanburg, S.C., area because of tax incentives, good access to South Carolina's highways and ports, and the area's reputation for a strong work ethic."South Carolina offered to support us in training and infrastructure," Hitt said. "The growth of our plant here is a clear indication of how well suited this location was for us."Training a new work forceIn developing new work forces in the South, auto manufacturers and state governments are investing millions of dollars annually in training residents.Before coming to BMW, job candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent and have worked at least three years. Most are recruited from a 50-mile radius of the plant.Once hired, employees spend a week in orientation and must complete 22 courses during their first 18 months. The classes range from effective communications to welding to computer programming. While taking the courses, which include time at a state technical school as well as on the factory floor, the employees receive a training wage.BMW wages begin at $16 an hour for the first three months -- more than the average, full-time manufacturing wage of $13 an hour in South Carolina. The BMW wages increase over the next two years to the standard rate of $20.75.Hitt said BMW spends millions of dollars per year on training. More than 50 percent of that is reimbursed by the state government every year under the Tech Special Schools training program, which was developed by the South Carolina Technical College System in 1992. Since 1993, the state has reimbursed BMW more than $25 million for training. Other companies have similar training contracts with their states.As in South Carolina, Nissan has a joint training program with the state of Tennessee. Workers take from two weeks to two years of classes, depending on their interests and specialities. Many of the production-line staff work as apprentices behind experienced workers. Mississippi officials plan a similar training program for workers at the new Nissan plant in Canton.In Tennessee, Nissan veteran Floyd Hughes said he trained to perform more than a dozen jobs at the factory. It allows him to vary his work and conduct Nissan "quality and pride checks.""I do three rotations a day," explained Hughes, 46, who said he had worked as many as three jobs at once before joining the company. "We learn to perform a variety of positions well so we can rotate."Auto experts say the South's training programs are the biggest draw to the region.Sean McAlinden, a director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said most states in the North and Midwest have tax incentives for auto manufacturers. However, Southern states such as Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia stand out for funding company training and offering to tailor programs to fit the needs of individual firms."The training is probably much more important than the tax incentives," McAlinden said, "especially to the international companies."Good return on investmentThe millions of dollars spent on training and other incentive programs is worth it because of the return on investment, according to state officials.When a plant opens, it not only brings thousands of new jobs to a community but also brings industry spinoffs. Workers at smaller companies in the area make and supply dashboards, seats, wheels and other vehicle components. Also, people in the area provide services in engineering, marketing and software.In addition, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and general public services proliferate when large plants begin operations.According to a study released in March by Michigan's Center for Automotive Research, a total of 6.6 additional jobs is created for every job at an automotive plant. "That's the highest multiplier of any industry in the United States -- easily," McAlinden said.To persuade Nissan executives to create a plant in Canton, state officials offered tax breaks for setting up the plant and a Nissan-guided job training program for employees. Nissan plans to begin production in 2003 with 4,000 workers. Mississippi officials estimate the plant will create an additional 22,000 jobs in automotive-related firms and service companies."With the new Advantage Mississippi initiative and the very innovative incentives we gave Nissan, it will more than pay for itself, in the short term and long term," Musgrove said.Emil Hassan, Nissan senior vice president of North American manufacturing, purchasing, quality and logistics, said his company decided "from the beginning" to locate its first North American plants in the South because "it was the best location for having a good, reliable, trainable work force."In addition, he said studies showed 75 percent of Nissan's customers for vehicles made at the Tennessee plant are within 500 miles of the factory."If you have good people, other things follow," Hassan said. Nissan opened its first North American plant in Smyrna, 20 miles south of Nashville, in 1983.Robert Neubert, Ernst & Young's national director for manufacturing industry services, said many executives have come to prefer the South to other parts of the country because of the region's small union presence."It's clear that the flexibility of the work force is much higher in the South than in some of the Northern states," where unionized workers might resist new plans that alter workers' roles and threaten job security. "Employers can set up a plant, change their manufacturing methods and make other adjustments without resistance," Neubert said.But national union leaders say union participation makes for better production methods and a better company."Every human should have a voice," said Bob King, a vice president for the United Auto Workers of America. He oversees national organizing. "When change is made that focuses only on the financial bottom line and not on the impact on workers and quality overall, you aren't coming up with your best solution."King and others also said unions are expanding in the South and will continue to grow as industry becomes more established in the region.Economic changes during the past two months have raised concerns about the future of the auto industry in the South and elsewhere.The nation's auto industry sold 17.4 million units in 2000, the highest figure in its 100-year history. McAlinden's center predicts a decline to 16 million in 2001.Still, 16 million is a high number; it would be the fourth largest in the industry's history."It is a blip" on the screen, McAlinden said, referring to the economic downturn's impact on the auto industry. "After two peak record-sales years, it's only natural that we'd have a pause."McAlinden said he does not expect a decline in industry growth in the South. Southern states have made themselves too attractive to manufacturers over the last decade for the industry not to put the region at the top of site planning lists, he said."The so-called 'new economy' may be largely fake, but the New South is not. You can find any technology or any skill these days in the South just as much as anywhere else.""The New South," he said, "really is the New South."

Photo: Floyd Hughes works on doors at the Tennessee Nissan plant in Smyrna, near Nashville./ JEAN SHIFRIN / Staff

Photo: A symbol of the New South, this sparkling Mercedes sport-utility vehicle rolls off the assembly line at the Alabama Mercedes plant, about 35 miles from Birmingham./ JEAN SHIFRIN / StaffGraphic: TOP AUTO STATESCar and light truck (including SUV and minivan) 1999 production1. Michigan..........3.11..million2. Ohio.............. 1.99 million3. Kentucky.......... 1.24 million4. Missouri.......... 1.22 million5. Illinois................639,0006. Tennessee.............. 561,0007. Georgia................ 530,0008. Indiana................ 506,0009. New Jersey..............372,00010. California............ 367,000Source: Automotive NewsGraphic: MAJOR AUTO FACILTIESSome major automotive manufacturing and assembly plants in the Southesast.Alabama1. DaimlerChrysler, Vance (about 30 miles west of Birmingham and 15 miles from Tuscaloosa) Produces Mercedes M-Class SUVs. Opened 1997.2. Honda, Lincoln (about 25 miles east of Birmingham) Will produce Honda Odyssey Minivans Scheduled to open in late 2001.ArkansasNo major automobile plantsFloridaNo major automobile plantsGeorgia3. Ford, Hapeville: Makes Ford Taurus and Mercuty Sable. Opened 1947.4. GM, Doraville: Makes minivans. Opened in 1947.5. Blue Bird, Fort Valley: Produces school buses, commercial buses and motor homes, Opened in 1932.6. Blue Bird, LaFayette: Produces school buses. Opened in 1983.Kentucky7. Ford, Louisville: Makes Mercury and Ford SUVs and some heavy-duty pickup trucks First work in 1955.8. 9. GM, Bowling Green: Produces the Corvette. Opened 1980.Toyota, Georgetown: Makes the Avalon and Camry cars and the Sienna mini-van. Opened1988.Louisiana10. GM, Shreveport: Makes the Chevrolet S10 and GMC Sonoma pickup trucks. Opened late-1970s.Mississippi11. Nissan, Canton: Will make full-size trucks, SUVs and Mini-vans. Scheduled to open in 2003.North Carolina12. Freightliner, Cleveland: Makes heavy-duty trucks. Opened in 1989.13. Freightliner, Mount Holly: Makes heavy-duty trucks. Opened in 1979.South Carolina14. BMW, Spartanburg: Produces Z3 Roadster, M Coupe, M Roadster, X5 SUV. Opened 1994.15. Mack, Winnsboro (just north of Columbia): Manufactures heavy-duty tractors. Opened 1987.Tennessee16. Nissan, Smyrna (located outside of Nashville): Produces Nissan Sentra cars and Frontier and Xterra trucks. Opened 1983.17. Saturn, Spring Hill (in south-central Tennessee): Produces S-Series cars. Opened 1990.18. Peterbult, Madison: Builds the Model 379 line of trucks and tractor-trailers.19. Nissan, Decherd: Makes engines.Virginia20. Ford, Norfolk: Makes the F-150 pickup truck. Opened 1925.21. Volvo, Dublin (in central Virginia): Makes tractor trailor truck cabs. Opened 1982.Map of the Southeast (minus Arkansas) is numbered according to the sites listed above.Sources: Ernst & Young Center for Business Knowledge; Individual automotive plant headquarters; state economic development and industry, trade & tourism officesResearch by Janita Poe and Sharon Gaus. / TROY OXFORD / Staff
Other Southern states more zealous than Ga. in courting automakers 
Date: April 8, 2001 Publication: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution Page Number: E7 Word Count: 520

The drive to bring automobile manufacturers to the South has generated a flurry of incentive programs and economic development plans.For states eager to rev up their economies and for those seeking their first auto plants, the negotiating and fine-tuning of incentive packages are intense. But states where the industry is already present are more conservative in their approaches to attracting car manufacturers.All states have economic development plans and incentives for..........
STATE-BY-STATE SNAPSHOT: Growth pace has slowed, but region stacks up well 
Date: April 8, 2001 Publication: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution Page Number: E8 Word Count: 1899

A year ago, the Southern Economic Survey reported that the region's performance was a shining star in the national economy, largely because of rapid job creation, an expanding technology sector and a strong tourism and hospitality industry.Now, after a yearlong economic slowdown, accelerated by inflated energy costs and a stock market decline, the South, like the rest of the nation, is adjusting to a new pace in the construction, manufacturing and technology sectors as....

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