Engine of change

By Marion P. Blackburn

WHITAKERS, N.C. — Projects for better schools, children’s services and health care shape local giving at Consolidated Diesel in Whitakers, a joint venture of Cummins of Indiana and CNH of Illinois.

That giving was boosted during the foundation’s 50th anniversary last year with a $25,000 grant through Consolidated Diesel.

While its parent companies have international scope, the Whitakers plant has a strong local mission to serve Nash, Edgecombe and Halifax counties.

Consolidated Diesel aims through its grants to address the region’s poverty, isolation and lack of education.

“Our basic approach to community involvement is to focus on three things — education, quality of life and economic development,” says David Selheim, general manager. “We take very seriously our role in the community and the charter — that whatever we do, whether it’s community involvement or strategic planning, we bring something to the community by being here.”

The plant, with about 1,250 employees, returns about $50,000 to $100,000 a year in the form of grants to the community, often including funds from its parent companies.

Cummins has its own giving organization, the Cummins Foundation, one of oldest corporate charities in the U.S.

For its anniversary last year, the Cummins Foundation gave each plant a $25,000 grant.

The foundation, which in 2004 provided about $1.1 million to its locations in North America, provides grants based on the strength of its financial year.

In good years, the company’s 15 locations receive larger grants, says Tracy Souza, president of the Cummins Foundation of Columbus, Ind. The local sites then use the funds, known as plant innovation grants, for local projects.

The plant innovation fund challenges local sites to develop projects that will improve life in their communities, with grants usually totaling several thousand dollars.

“We have a responsibility to those communities in which we operate,” Souza says. “You cannot have a healthy business if the community is unhealthy.”

Cummins, named for Clessie Cummins, an auto mechanic and inventor who was among the first to see the commercial potential of diesel engine technology, has committed itself to increased funding in recent years, Souza says.

The Cummins Foundation also matches United Way donations, another big source of charitable giving at the Whitakers Consolidated Diesel location.

Selheim estimates his employees helped generate about $200,000 in contributions and matching corporate funds for the 2004 campaign.

“We have, for this area, a high participation rate and a good level of contribution,” he says.

Having additional Cummins Foundation grant money allows the plant to direct its efforts to specific agencies, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Halifax County.

The Consolidated Diesel plant, which manufactures cylinder blocks, cylinder heads and connecting rods on eight machining lines, began shipping diesel-engine parts in 1983.

In addition to contributing money, Consolidated Diesel employees also give their time.

Employees volunteer, serve on nonprofit boards or provide expertise to agencies such as the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, an economic development organization for Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Together, the Cummins Foundation and Consolidated Diesel have supported programs such as Communities in Schools, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, My Sister’s House shelter for women and children, Christian Fellowship Homes and Down East Partnership for Children, an education organization.

“The partnership between the foundation and the plant here is an excellent partnership,“ Selheim says. “They help us identify needs, evaluate the process at each plant and offer opportunities to share approaches. There’s a lot of synergy and best practice sharing that goes among all Cummins facilities. It makes our job a little easier.”

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