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Community reacts to GM’s news

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
April 29, 2008
— As sad as the General Motors news is, Jason Thoms of Janesville was not surprised by Monday’s announcement that the Janesville plant will build SUVs on just one shift and that about 750 jobs will be eliminated.

“Those who can afford a new vehicle are looking for something with more economy—something the Janesville plant just isn’t producing,’’ he said.


Thoms believes the Janesville plant is one of GM’s flagships with an established local supply chain and a dedicated community behind it.


“I don’t think the facility is going to close. However, I do think GM needs to diversify its production here so that it can continue operating efficiently no matter what the economy does,’’ he said.


-- Monday’s announcement didn’t surprise Cathy Burt of Janesville. She knew the rising cost of gas wasn’t a good sign.


“This is not new news. This has been anticipated to a certain extent,’’ she said.


If the local plant retools to build a smaller vehicle, Burt said, it has a good chance to stay open.


“They have to seriously think about downsizing the vehicle they build,’’ she said.


-- Vern Anderson of Janesville was surprised because he thought the plant was going to continue building SUVs on a reduced production schedule.


He also thinks many employees will have to relocate. He hopes that GM will help employees find new work and that some workers will retire.


Anderson is confident the local plant will stay open.


“I think they’re resizing and regrouping at this time. I have faith they will remain a permanent site because Janesville has always had a good employment record at this plant.’’


-- Janice Peterson of Janesville wasn’t surprised by the announcement. She figured something was coming after vehicle sales dropped and the United Auto Workers went on strike against American Axle, reducing production at several plants, including Janesville.


“With the combination of both, it just didn’t look good,’’ she said.


While some workers will take buyouts, Peterson thinks a good number will “hang in there and hope things will get better.


“I certainly hope it survives,” Peterson said of the plant. “It’s always been a great addition to our community.’’


-- Shari Renken of Janesville hasn’t been impressed with how GM has treated employees lately, and Monday’s announcement was another example.


“It puts too much emphasis on the almightily dollar and not on family and people who help get the almighty dollar,” she said.


Renken isn’t sure what workers will do.


“The job market is not that good right now. So there are not that many places for them to go,’’ she said.


But Renken hopes the plant survives.


“Without GM, we’d be hurting big time.’’


-- Tom Reed of Janesville said the GM announcement “isn’t good news across the board for the auto industry.’’


For the plant in Janesville to be viable, he said, it needs to operate two shifts.


“We’ve gone through tough times before, but this is not good news if GM is competing within itself from plant-to-plant. It’s getting tougher to compete.”


-- Jeff Davis of Edgerton, who is a GM worker, admitted that rumors of such news have swirled around the plant for several months.


“Given the economic situation now and with three plants producing SUVs, there’s only so much you can do to the building due to the age of the Janesville plant,’’ he said.


Davis said quite a few employees can retire and also have the option of the buyouts.


Monday’s news “may accelerate plans of retiring,” he said, “but due to the economy, they may not.’’


The plant’s future depends on the product it builds, Davis said.


“Without a product change, it’s kind of dismal with the economy.’’


-- Greg Richards of Janesville was only little surprised about GM’s announcement—given the economy and price of gas.


The reality, though, “is still shocking,’’ he said.


Richards thinks more people will take buyouts.


He hopes the plant can hold onto one shift but isn’t sure if that’s feasible because Janesville is one of the oldest plants.


Read more in our special section on the GM cutbacks.

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