Town hall event gets Janesville perspective

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010
— The television production crew arrived at 6 a.m., the interviewees 90 minutes later, and the 8 a.m. sound check was flawless.

Amid subsequent talk of “A” blocks, “B” blocks, “boxes” and “hits,” however, came a statement more easily understood: One of the two cameras wasn’t working, and CNBC reporter Phil LeBeau was scheduled to go live in six minutes from the HHFFRRRGGH Inn.

As LeBeau checked the pronunciation of the Janesville restaurant—“it’s pronounced FARG, right?”—the crew fixed the camera and Janesville filled its spot on CNBC’s daylong coverage Monday of “Investing in America: A CNBC Town Hall Event With President Obama.”

The business news network scheduled remotes throughout the day from Janesville, San Jose, Calif., and New York City. Each featured a CNBC reporter interviewing residents about the state of the economy and their position on the Obama administration’s economic policies.

The remotes were sandwiched around a commercial-free town hall meeting with Obama in Washington, D.C.

In the five or so hours at HHFFRRRGGH, LeBeau and the Janesville group were live for about five minutes.

At 8:20 a.m., LeBeau went on the air to set the scene in Janesville, a community hit hard by the downturn in the auto industry. He then asked his guests what problems they face.

Mary Willmer-Sheedy of M&I Bank and the Rock County 5.0 economic development effort said she’d like to see action in Washington on tax cuts that would provide market certainty to businesses so they could invest in new jobs.

Bruce Corner of SSI Technologies said his business can’t compete when it’s paying what’s projected to reach 50 percent of earnings in taxes.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said he was all for tax fairness with less political rhetoric.

Ninety seconds later, LeBeau threw the coverage to a similar group in San Jose.

After an hour-and-a-half wait, the group was back under the lights for a brisk two-minute segment on what the group expected from Obama. Two hours later, the panel convened for 90 seconds to react to the president’s performance at the town hall meeting.

“Not a lot of optimism here in Janesville,” LeBeau said in his wrap-up.

While that may be CNBC’s takeaway, the local folks involved in Monday’s production agreed that there was a benefit to Janesville.

“Janesville as a brand has probably been leaning to the negative in the minds of many people across the country,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville and the person who helped coordinate Monday’s event on short notice.

“This will help turn our image in a different direction so people might see the opportunities and prospects for growth here. If nothing else, a national, global audience got to see Janesville on a map right next to Silicon Valley and New York City.”

LeBeau, the network’s auto and airline industry reporter, said his crew came to Janesville in part because of the closing of the local General Motors plant.

“There’s been a lot of national reporting on Janesville, and there are clearly a lot of people hurting here,” he said. “But I’ve heard about the efforts to revive the economy here, and I don’t think as an auto town that Janesville is a one-trick pony.

“Clearly, GM was huge in this town, but there are a lot of other industries represented here, and we wanted a different perspective than we might have gotten in Michigan.”

Last updated: 2:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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