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January 14, 2000

The annual Chamber of Commerce/Perry Development Coalition banquet the other night was unusually well attended. The evening had many significant highlights and that alone generated a lot of excitement, but the large crowd that overflowed the Elks Lodge meeting hall obviously was ready for some good news and they responded well to what they heard and saw about the future growth plans described by Dave Woods, chief operating officer of the Charles Machine Works, Inc.

Dave, a solid cheerleader both for this community and the company he represents, spoke of today's exploding growth pattern at CMW and the implications that bears for the city of Perry. CMW has been by far the single most stabilizing and motivating force for our town since the company began manufacturing those small Ditch Witch trenchers invented by Ed Malzahn and his dad, Charlie, more than 50 years ago. More than 1,500 employees make up the work force at the Ditch Witch factory today. Dave peered into his crystal ball and saw the probability of adding at least 1,000 more men and women at CMW in the not-so-distant future. Can you believe that? Of course you can, if you've been paying attention to what's happening at this unique business right from the beginning.

"Find a need and fill it!" That's the abbreviated summation provided by Ed Malzahn in describing the reason for his company's continuing expansion. New equipment, new ideas, new refinements to fill customers' needs - these have been the keystones of CMW's rise to the forefront of medium-sized construction equipment manufacturers in its relatively short lifetime. Added to that is the exceptionally high quality of workmanship produced by its employees. They are for the most part men and women who grew up in this middle-America environment with a work ethic and dedication that all employers hope to find. They provide a large part of the answer to why this company has reached a dominant level in its field and continues to grow.

Dave Woods brought up several significant points that all of us need to be considering. His research shows that roughly 25 percent of the company's employees commute from a distance of more than 15 miles. They take with them disposable income of about $25 million per year. They live in towns other than Perry for many reasons, but one of the greatest is a lack of suitable homes in attractive neighborhoods with good streets and curbs in our town. They look for a good water supply, schools, medical services, cultural opportunities, movies, upscale restaurants and other amenities and find them lacking here. So they live elsewhere and take their sizable incomes with them

On top of that, more than half of the newer CMW employees live beyond that 15-mile commuter distance. This indicates that a correspondingly larger proportion of the work force will be choosing other towns in which they will raise their families and thus contribute to their economic base. Some of those dollars should be spent here.

So, we have a challenge. We have been advised that our community's largest employer is still growing rapidly and we have serious problems to solve if we are to serve them well. What about the water supply? What about good streets and residential areas? What about those other things we are lacking? If we put our best efforts into solving those needs, we can succeed. It's happened in the past. But first comes an organized effort to get the job done. We have the channels to work through and CMW stands willing to assist with its considerable resources. Do we also have the will and determination to get started on the job? It won't go away if we turn our backs, and wringing our hands in despair won't do it. There has to be leadership. Let's get the ball rolling.