Q&A with Cummins’ chairman and CEO

FOR THE TRIBUNE

Cummins Inc. has begun transforming the former Sears retail store in downtown Columbus for use as office space.

The 62,800-square-foot property, owned by the Columbus Capital Foundation, is near the Cummins headquarters downtown and will address the company’s capacity needs in Columbus. Cummins announced its plans to lease the facility in January, and it is seen an interim solution to the company’s broader facility needs.

Cummins Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger addressed the status of the project in an interview Monday and also shared his thoughts on the Indiana University Center for Art and Design, which will keep its location on the eastern side of the Sears building, and the importance of free trade agreements.

Q: Where do things stand on the Sears building?

Linebarger: We’re in. Everything I hear from employees is that it looks terrific. I must admit, because I used to shop at Sears, I was little concerned that we were going to turn that store into an office. But feedback is terrific. I don’t think it’s completely full yet. … Not everybody is in, it’s in the process.

Q: Any specific departments in the Sears building?

Jon Mills, Cummins’ director of external communications: It’s mostly IT (information technology).

Linebarger: That’s who’s in now anyway. I think all of our first moves are IT people. What we’re trying to do in southern Indiana is … make sure we get people working together collaboratively in what we’re calling neighborhoods. We want people who are doing like work to sit in the same areas of buildings and that we want to drive collaboration among those groups.

Q: Are people being shifted from different areas?

Linebarger: This is all Columbus here.

Mills: It’s about 1,500 people. The idea is, like Tom said, to put them in neighborhoods so they’re working more collaboratively, able to meet with customers and suppliers more easily. It’s to drive a better working environment.

Q: There had been talk of other uses for the Sears building before Cummins’ interest was known, especially for an expansion of the Indiana University Center for Art and Design in Columbus. What is Cummins’ relationship with IUCA+D?

Linebarger: We’re a big supporter of (IUCA+D). The work that’s (also) gone on out by the airport with Ivy Tech and IUPUC, I think that’s made a huge improvement in the Columbus area. Cummins feels that investing in education not only makes students stronger and therefore enriches the community, but just bringing these people in for these education programs helps this community grow.

So we think good jobs, good education systems, rich community — that’s what we’re trying to build. It’s the same thing in Jackson County. We’re working with the community leaders there to help improve education in Jackson County, where we’re doing our Seymour expansion. I think from our point of view, helping these programs get going is really enriching the Columbus community.

and we think it will do the same in Seymour. So, we think that school of art and design is a terrific addition.

One comment on Seymour, it’s another example of competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing for Cummins. That Hedgehog engine, we studied our plants all over the world about where to put that engine and decided to put it in Seymour. And we put it in Seymour because we thought we could be most competitive globally in Seymour.

We’ve got an engineering group down there, a manufacturing group down there. We’ve already put $200 million into the facility for engineering and manufacturing. We’ve got hundreds of workers we’ve added there. We’ve invested in the education system there in this community team we built up — it’s not just Cummins, but other community leaders there. Seventy percent of those engines will go to another country, but what that investment tells me is U.S. manufacturing is plenty competitive.

What we need to do is continue to engage in trade with other countries because the U.S. wins. The reason we can add jobs there is we can sell those engines to other countries. So I’m pushing really hard to get more free trade agreements with U.S. and other countries, because this is where we win. When there’s no rules of trade, it’s much harder to compete. When there’s rules in trade, even if they’re not perfect, but they’re closer to what we want, the U.S. does really well. That plant is a testament to that point.

I’m hoping what we’ll see is a lot more movement toward free trade with the negotiation in Congress on the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, and then there’s a whole trade program behind it. The last time I checked, Mexico had 44 free trade agreements and the U.S. has 20 — 44 to 20. You wonder why for every one car plant being added in the U.S. there’s five being added in Mexico? As a person with plants in both, it’s not labor cost, it’s free trade agreements. So, free trade agreements have to be a priority of the U.S. I’m really proud of what we’ve done in Seymour, and I think we can do a lot more in the U.S. with these free trade agreements as kind of infrastructure for the U.S. The U.S. is a very competitive place to manufacture today.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.