Other sectors help manufacturing losses

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Jim Leute
Sunday, December 15, 2013

JANESVILLE--It's no secret that the manufacturing sector—for decades the base of Rock County's economy—has been battered.

Since December 2008, the local sector has lost 2,300 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Average annual earning in the sector have fallen from $52,400 to $51,600 over the period when inflation adjustments suggest that 2008 salary should now be nearly $57,000.

The declines correlate directly with the loss of the area's lucrative automotive manufacturing sector.

They also connect, area economic development officials said, with changes in the manufacturing sector. Because of technological advances, manufacturers don't need the same number of people, and the days of union-driven wages of $28 per hour will never return, they said.

While overall job losses in Rock County can be traced to the manufacturing sector, there have been other local industry sectors that have shown both job and wage growth since 2008.


Jeanie Rodenberg grew up in Janesville, went away to college, got married and settled in Baraboo with her husband, who was working as a department head at the Farm & Fleet.

In 1997, she applied for a job and was hired at General Motors in Janesville. She and her husband came home, where he landed at a job at the Janesville Farm & Fleet.

Then the GM hammer hit, and Rodenberg was laid off in 2008. She took a buyout and went back to school, hoping to learn skills that would complement her degrees in geography and political science from UW-Eau Claire.

“I liked computers, and the (aptitude) tests said I'd be good in that field,” she said. “I got straight A's, but I just didn't like sitting in front of a computer all day.”

She stuck with school for a year, ultimately deciding to be a stay-at-home mom for her two daughters.

Finances tightened, and Rodenberg rejoined the workforce, this time as the manager of the candy department at Farm & Fleet in Janesville. After three years, her experience and skills helped her get a job at Blain Supply, Farm & Fleet's corporate parent.

Today, the 42-year-old Rodenberg is an assistant merchandiser helping to set merchandising plans for the retail stores.

Rodenberg is an example of Rock County's growing wholesale trade sector.

Between December 2008 and August of this year, the sector added 800 jobs. Over the same period annual salaries for the super sector that includes wholesale trade have increased 12.5 percent.

“I don't make anything near what I was making, but that's OK,” she said. “It's been good, and we're happy.”


Rock County's professional and business services sector added 800 jobs in 57 months, and wages in the sector have skyrocketed.

Average earnings in 2008 were $34,525. In August, they were $44,370, a 28 percent increase, according to the bureau.

Chris Farlinger is the support manager at Foremost Media, a full-service web design and web optimization company in Janesville that's grown at least 20 percent and added a minimum of two employees every year for the last five.

Farlinger has a family background in construction, moved from Beloit to Janesville in 2005 and started his own home repair business, one that for a variety of reasons—including the economic downturn—didn't pan out.

“I had always been talking about going to college, and I was always interested in computers because I thought it would be a growing business,” Farlinger said. “I wanted to start my own business, and I was always talking about it because I thought it would be something that I would be good at it.

“After hearing it enough, my wife finally pulled it out of me, encouraged me to go to school and the rest is history.”

Farlinger graduated from Blackhawk Technical College in 2012 with an information technology degree and a variety of extra certifications. He had been interning at Foremost and joined the growing company full time in 2012.

“I absolutely figured I'd have to travel to Madison or Rockford for a job because there were not that many openings here and most wanted experience, which is a problem for new grads,” Farlinger said.

“I've been lucky, and this has been a real blessing. For this area, I'm comfortable with the pay, and this is a great company to work for.

“I have no complaints.”


It's not much of a stretch to say Stacy McNall picked St. Mary's Janesville Hospital rather than the hospital picking her in October 2011.

While living in Janesville and working in health care outside of Janesville, McNall watched the new hospital go up near Interstate 90/39.

“It was very exciting to see, and for me it was, 'They are coming, I will work there,'” said McNall, a 1990 Craig graduate.

Technically, St. Mary's hired McNall as a nurse and lactation consultant. A year after the hospital opened in January 2012, McNall was promoted to supervisor of the facility's family birthing center.

She was quickly promoted to be the unit's director, a position she's held for just three months.

McNall and many of her colleagues at the new hospital reflect growth in the local health care sector, which added 500 jobs since 2008.

McNall wasn't always involved in health care, and when she was, she was rarely in a job in the Janesville market.

She initially was a music teacher, a field where she saw limited growth potential. While teaching in Madison about 15 years ago, she started volunteering at St. Mary's Hospital.

“It was Friday nights in the ER, and it was fabulous,” she said. “I got to talk to so many people and ask them what they liked or didn't like about their jobs.

“Given what I was facing in music, I decided nursing offered me the most flexibility.”

She graduated from Blackhawk Tech's two-year nursing program and eventually earned a master's degree in nursing education.

She taught at BTC but ultimately decided patient care was what interested her.

She'd met her future husband—a laid off Beloit Corp. employee—in nursing school, and they were committed to the area. In fact, they bought and live in the Janesville house where McNall was raised.

“This really is my dream job, but that doesn't mean that every day is perfect,” she said. “It really all ties in to 15 years ago and volunteering at St. Mary's in Madison and experiencing the mission and values of SSM Health Care.

“I wanted to be a part of that, and to see it happen in my hometown is just phenomenal. For years, it was so sad that I couldn't be a part of that mission in my hometown, but now I am, and it's so exciting where we're going.”

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