Greg Goodnight has lived in Kokomo his entire life, growing up in a three-bedroom home, the son of a truck driver. Greg played football in Kokomo schools, working through high school as a bag boy at the neighborhood supermarket. He spent his summers weeding soybean fields, detasseling corn, and mowing lawns, until graduation, when he went to work midnights in the melt shop at Haynes. He didn't missed a day of work for more than thirteen years.
That work ethic made Greg an instant leader, and he was elected to represent his coworkers as the Steelworkers President. During the time when Haynes International went through bankruptcy, his leadership helped save almost 800 local jobs.
On the City Council, Greg was a consensus-builder who worked with Republicans and Democrats to solve problems, cut wasteful spending, and bring new jobs to Kokomo. Since he became mayor, he's been doing the same thing: taking on the most difficult of challenges, tightening the belt of local government, and making Kokomo a better place to live.
In his first term, Greg Goodnight inherited a $5 million city deficit and made it into a $7 million surplus; preserved automotive jobs in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression; and made downtown and neighborhood investments to make Kokomo a better place to live.
It hasn't been easy. Greg was sworn in as mayor just as Chrylser was set to collapse into bankruptcy. Nationwide, the economy was shedding jobs. In Howard County, unemployment reached twenty percent. The city was staring down a grim future, perhaps without its two largest employers.
So he got to work. He directed the city to expand its loan program for small businesses by ten-fold. The city’s economic development campaign convinced Westwind Wood Specialties, a Kansas-based company, to move to Kokomo and invest more than $1 million in the city. Zuna Infotech is creating 400 new jobs, and Stephens Machine is expanding again. While once the auto industry built inefficient gas guzzlers, now Kokomo workers are building the cars of the future, and Chrysler is investing more than a billion dollars to do it – the largest investment in Kokomo in a generation. The city's factories have begun calling back laid-off workers. 14 new small businesses have opened downtown.
Though confronted with a budget deficit that was growing increasingly out of control, Goodnight chose to cut spending instead of raising taxes. He found dozens of innovative and creative ways to save taxpayers money, and he cut the size of local government more than any other mayor in recent history.
But even as Kokomo has tightened its belt in tough economic times, Greg knew that making Kokomo a better place to live is still his number one job. According to the Kokomo Perspective, he "literally reshaped downtown Kokomo, making it a destination for local residents for the first time in more than a generation. He restored public transportation after more than 40 years without its presence in the community. And he did his part to improve the economic prospects of a city that two years ago was written off for dead." Kokomo added pedestrian-friendly bump-outs to downtown intersections, replaced traffic lights with stop signs to reduce traffic speeds, removed 340 parking meters to encourage more visitors to come downtown, took down over 1,300 unsightly and unnecessary road signs, added flower baskets and landscaping, and extended biking and hiking trails throughout downtown.
There's still a lot of work left to be done: Kokomo families are still struggling, and the city's recovery has only just begun. Tested and tough, Greg Goodnight is prepared to work every day for the next four years to bring Kokomo back.