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When P. David Campbell was head of human resources for Dunlop Tire in the early 1990s, the company's Tonawanda plant was losing millions of dollars a year.

Campbell was part of a management team that took a hard stance with the United Rubber Workers Union, demanding pay cuts and work rule changes in the name of saving the plant.

After a bitter, month-long strike, 1,100 plant employees agreed to a lower wage scale, reduced incentive pay and work changes. One union official called the concessions "a hard pill to swallow."

Since then the plant has thrived, breaking its own record for tire production.

Now Campbell is trying to dispense more medicine.

This time, it's the Western New York region that he thinks is uncompetitive and in danger of being left behind.

The retired Dunlop executive heads a group of volunteer business leaders within the Buffalo Niagara Partnership trying to help grow the economy in a region bleeding population.

One of the goals of the group's "Buffalo Niagara Now" initiative is to improve the business climate by reducing local taxes and regulations.

Campbell wants Amherst to centralize its purchasing, rather than having each department head control his or her own checkbook. He wants towns to merge the task of assessing property.

Give them long enough, and Campbell's group may even suggest more efficient ways to provide core government services, such as public safety, plowing roads and maintaining parks.

"I'm a fan of Western New York. I live here by choice. But it's real hard to do business in Western New York. The taxes are high here, there's duplication of government services," said Campbell, an Alabama native who still speaks with a Southern drawl.

"People say, 'Hey, all you want to do is cut services.' I don't want to cut services. I want to eliminate inefficient services. People get confused about being competitive, because they think all they have to do is be competitive against the guy next door. But when you start trying to sell a product or a service outside this community, that's when you see how difficult it is. We don't want to lose a Dunlop. We don't want to lose a Delphi, and those companies have to compete around the world."

Campbell is a fairly popular guy in the business community. He's putting in volunteer hours in support of a popular civic concept: lower taxes.

But some Western New Yorkers who have worked for, or tried to negotiate with him, have a different view of David Campbell.

The Dunlop plant was in so much trouble to begin with, in part, because of decisions made by some of the people now taking civic leadership roles, namely Campbell and former Dunlop Chairman Randall Clark, said Peter Lorrens, former president of United Rubber Workers Union Local 135.

"If you were standing right in front of him, he'd drive right over you to make a nickle. He was for David Campbell, strictly for David Campbell and whoever he was invested with," said Lorrens, describing Campbell's reputation with the union.

"I left the plant with a bad taste in my mouth and it still hasn't left," the Dunlop retiree said.

Despite the lingering hard feelings over labor-management relations, Lorrens said the concessions made by the union have benefited the plant. "We had to give millions and millions in givebacks, but as you look at it now, the plant's still open and it's doing well," he said.

Goodyear took control of Dunlop in 1999 through a deal with Sumitomo Rubber of Japan. The Tonawanda plant was scheduled to produce a record 4.5 million tires this year for motorcycles, cars and trucks.

"I think the analogy between Dunlop and the community is very close," said Clark, who is working on a Buffalo Niagara Partnership initiative to consolidate local economic development agencies.

"The truth of the matter is, the world has changed. The population has shrunk and we just have to take costs out of these municipalities. David is the kind of guy who will stand up, pound on the table and say 'This is wrong. We can't afford this anymore,' " Clark said.

Campbell has changed since his earlier days at Dunlop. He said he retired as company president in March 2001 after going through a spiritual awakening and becoming a born-again Christian.

The former Dunlop executive is now a lay deacon at The Chapel in Amherst and runs a one-man firm called Integrity Enterprises, which helps churches with their business operations.

"He's involved himself in every aspect of this ministry . . . He's a great asset to any organization," said Jerry Gillis, senior co-pastor of The Chapel, a growing church with a congregation of about 3,000.

His involvement with Buffalo Niagara Partnership's Buffalo Niagara Now initiative is beginning to affect local government deliberations across Western New York.

Campbell and dozens of volunteers are trying to implement the results of the Partnership's Who Does What? Commission report. The report identified ways local governments could save about $40 million in operating expenses.

Some of the ideas could help free up time for employees. For example, the Erie County Sheriff's Department has offered to take over some processing and central jail functions for the Buffalo Police Department.

The collaboration, which is in the final negotiation stage, could free an estimated 15,000 man hours a year for city cops, the equivalent of 7 more cops on the street.

"I think the (Buffalo Niagara) Partnership, they're making a good attempt to facilitate the dialogue. It's moving along farther than it has ever been," said Buffalo Deputy Police Commissioner Crystalea Burns-Pelletier. "I think, in the long run, it's a good idea. We're in a building that's years and years old. We've got a lock-up on the fourth floor that we've had to maintain to certain codes and that means we have to put money into it for capital improvements."

Most of the detail work in negotiating government collaboration is done by Buffalo Niagara Partnership President Andrew Rudnick, Government Relations Director Kevin Shuler, Public Policy Manager Ken Vetter and other staff members.

Campbell and other business executives provide the public leadership and lobby elected officials.

"We've kind of become a catalyst, almost in a mediation role at times, to bring factions together that have not come together because of the political climate. I used to kid people that every decision is 51 percent political, well, it's actually 99 percent political," Campbell said.

Other business people heavily involved with the effort include Peter Hunt, president of Hunt Real Estate ERA; Brad Nagel, sales director for H&K Publications; Mike Piette, a partner with Jaeckle, Fleishmann & Mugel, and Betty Newell, president of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.

A similar Who Does What? effort is being led by the business community in Niagara County.

Campbell said he remains sensitive to political issues that may impede progress, and he works hard to maintain an independent reputation.

Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra was the driving force behind the Who Does What? study and many Partnership leaders are Giambra supporters. This leaves some people wondering whether or not Campbell is simply "Giambra's guy."

"I guess this is an extension of Giambra's Who Does What? Commission. It does raise the specter of whether or not it's an extension of the county executive. But if there are viable ideas for how to reduce costs, those ideas need to be looked at," said Cheektowaga Supervisor Dennis Gabryszak, a Democrat.

"I don't think it's political, it's more like people in business, like David and myself, just trying to do whatever we can to help," said Deborah Leous, chief financial officer of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Leous is helping Cheektowaga collaborate with neighboring governments. Town leaders have already taken several positive steps on their own, she said.

For example, Cheektowaga is helping with tax assessment work for Sloan and Depew. The town has also offered to handle emergency dispatch calls for other municipalities, because its system can handle extra volume, she said.

Leous said people are concerned that regionalizing will mean losing jobs.

"I think people are worried about the fallout from the jobs. What will happen to the jobs? A lot can be done through attrition. These things can be phased in. They're not going to happen overnight anyway," Leous said. "We've got an aging population here in Western New York, so a lot of these ideas can be phased in through attrition."

Many government employees are also worried about business people with no municipal government experience calling the shots, said Jeffrey Kobus, president of the Amherst Highway Employees Association.

"(Campbell) can be the most super intelligent wizard that there is, but he has no idea about the day-to-day operations of the various departments," said Kobus, whose group has 160 members. "I could have 25 degrees in business, but unless I'm familiar with the day-to-day operations of the departments, I'm not in a position to make an informed opinion."

Nowhere has Campbell made more waves lately than his home town of Amherst. While town leaders faced crowds of angry residents protesting a 10 percent tax increase, Campbell sent cordial letters to Amherst Supervisor Susan Grelick offering his assistance.

Erie County's largest town has been one of the most resistant to the Who Does What? recommendations. Both Grelick and Gabryszak said running a town is a lot different than running a business.

Government operations have a lot more rules, such as the state's Taylor Law, which prevents government workers from striking but gives them a binding arbitration system to settle contract disputes.

"You can't just unilaterally do things in government like you can do in private industry," Gabryszak said.

The Amherst Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, is preparing to do a Who Does What? study for the town.

"I want to make sure we get the support of the Town Board to acknowledge and act on any conclusions we come to," said Colleen C. DiPirro, president of the Amherst chamber. "There's going to be some hard decisions to make. Those decisions may involve layoffs, they may involve increased user fees."

Some prior recommendations of the chamber were not implemented, she said. For example, the chamber and its leaders previously recommended the town centralize policies and procedures for purchasing goods and services.

"You've got about 40 different contracts for copier machines and maintenance and so on . . . Right now, it's autonomous decisions on the part of department heads for what they want to purchase," she said.

Campbell said he remains ready to help the town -- home to his residence, business, church and country club -- improve its efficiency in any way he can.

"I'm an optimist. I believe Western New York is worth fighting for. What really gets my dander up is when the political climate overrides the concern for the area. There's no magic bullet, it's just hard work. Let's get together and get serious about this," Campbell said.


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