Manufacturing in the U.S. has changed dramatically since its post-war boom. Increased competition from foreign automakers has led companies like General Motors to focus on global auto production. However, that meant GM plant closures at home. When the economy tanked in 2008, not even GM, which would file for bankruptcy in 2009, could survive to meet its financial obligations. Workers faced layoffs as plants around the country closed in the last ditch effort to save General Motors from the history books. One of those GM plant closures was the Janesville, Wisconsin factory that closed December 23, 2008.
“For a lot of people, it came as a huge shock. It had been here for so long, it was part of Janesville for forever,” Ronald Splan, who retired from the Janesville GM plant after 30 years and now serves as vice president for UAW Local 95, told local news outlet NBC 15. “I know it certainly disrupted a lot of people’s lives, not just the people that worked at the plant but everybody in the surrounding area.”
Janesville could serve as an example of what could happen to other factory towns with a GM plant gear up to propose closing five North American production facilities next year. It’ll have to negotiate with the UAW before any closures are finalized; however, even the prospect of a factory closing is enough to make employees nervous.
Since General Motors closed the Janesville facility, the city and surrounding community has had to shift its economic outlook. While the city has received $2 billion in new investment and nearly 5,000 jobs, jobs providing a living wage are still scarce. When GM operated the factory in Janesville, it employed thousands of workers while providing a way for people to move up to the middle class.
There are plans for the former factory. According to Janesville’s economic development director, the old GM plant will again house a manufacturing facility. However, if history tells us anything, those jobs won’t be around forever.