Friday, May 17, 2013

Louisville Redux

I spent a good (sic) part of my 20s in Louisville, which I remember as an old Midwestern (sic-not southern) metal-bashing town.  My law school commute buddy was the first guy I knew to carry a portable phone.   Or maybe it was just a beeper.  Anyway, the point was that he was some sort of a production expediter at the Ford plant; nobody knew he existed unless the line went down, in which case he had to earn his keep.   Aside from him, I remember the flac for the General Electric heavy appliance plant ("appliance park," they called it), whose job was to chill out the reporters--just one of many strategies his bosses had put into place to try to out-hustle the unions by going over the unions' heads with direct appeals to the populace.

I left in 1969, and haven't been back since for more than three days at a time.  I assumed (though I hadn't  actually checked) that both Ford and GE have long since vanished from the Louisville scene, or at least withered on the vine to mere shadows of their former self, all part of the general hollowing-out of the rust belt (but cf.* infra).

I had learned that Louisville's subsequent fortunes were not all bad.  Two guys playing golf together and riffing on ideas to get rich--they hit upon the idea of what became Humana, the health services giant.  John Y. Brown, Jr., flamboyant son of a flamboyant father, bought Kentucky Fried Chicken from the original Colonel Sanders and kicked it into the big league (Brown in his youth liked to tool up and down Fourth Street in a red convertible with a couple of babes.  "Either the boy will wind up a millionaire or ion the penitentiary," they liked to say.  He did worse: he became a governor).

Recent inquiry shows that Humana is still a major presence in Louisville, and KFC also retains a large footprint. But I somehow failed to grasp the rise of the new driver of the Louisville economy until I stumbled across this in the National Journal: a major employer in its own right and a force multiplier for its surroundings (hint they come to your door). Louisville as the best location in the nation, heh.  I lived in Cleveland in 1954 when they made the same claim, and we know how that turned out.  Anyway, God bless 'em although I do not CafePress CEO Bob Marino when he says that "Louisville  the place where I want to live until I die."

I fired the piece off to the friends from my Louisville days (there aren't may left).  The dependable Swifty took the conversation to a whole new plane:
Hi jack – to me, Louisville was a city of meat packing plants, whisky distilling, beer brewing,  cigarette rolling. Remember when the neighborhood breweries were shutting down? One of the worst tasting beers I ever tried was the Irsh beer, don’t remember it’s name. it held on longer than the others.
 He is right, and I had utterly forgotten: standing outside the cigarette plant with Thelma Stovall, an old union rep running for one state office or another, I forget which but there were so many.  I remember the beer, too.  I tried to write that one of the breweries had "gurgled hideously down the drain," but a narrow-minded copy reader toned it down.  I knew I needed fo find another line of work.

*But maybe I was wrong.  I just now did some Googling.  Evidently there is still an Appliance Park; in 2012 they spread the word that they were hiring 230 workers, starting at $13.03 an hour;  they got 10,000  applicants.  The announcement said they wanted people with "competencies."  Meanwhile here is a 2010 press release on  Ford retooling for new production in Louisville.

UpdateI just now thought to check the Louisville unemployment rate.  Seems to be running in excess of eight percent, which would appear high for a city with so much sunny hype.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

Do I, uh, misremember, or wasn't Ashland Oil Company another high profile corporate resident? Only asking.

Crankily-ish yours,
The New York Crank