Peoria, Ill., without Caterpillar (CAT)? Benton Harbor, Mich., without Whirlpool (WHR)? Columbus, Ind., without Cummins Engine (CMI)?
One of America’s under-appreciated relationships is the one between smaller cities and bigger companies, an often-happy exchange of quality-of-life for the combination of well-paying and skilled jobs, economic growth and stability, and corporate generosity to support cultural and educational institutions.
For every Cummins Engine, approaching its 100th anniversary in 2019 as civic benefactor to Columbus, however, there are scores of middle market and larger companies, based in smaller cities that have sold to larger competitors and then packed up their factories and left town. The effect is devastating.
That makes the story of Ed Schweitzer, founder of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, all the more remarkable. The company, which makes sophisticated equipment for the global electrical power industry, is based in Pullman, Washington, population about 32,000. More than half of that count comes from the students at Washington State University, so Schweitzer’s 2,000 local employees (out of a total worldwide of about 3,800) account for more than one in ten permanent residents, powering the local economy, hiring WSU grads and many others, and supporting local institutions.