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Officials speak out on GM

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 3, 2008
— Local leaders were clear-eyed this morning about the hurt, but they also saw hope.

They used words like “devastating” about the probable loss of the General Motors plant. But they didn’t say “crippling.”


“I understand the initial reaction is one of anguish and anxiety and disappointment and, I would say, in some circles, real anger,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, the local business organization.


Beckord was one of many, however, who saw the sun coming out tomorrow:


“A lot of folks have been thinking about this eventuality for a long time, and it isn’t as though we’ve been caught with our proverbial pants down,” Beckord said. “Over the coming weeks, the community is going to engage in a conversation about a new vision for the community, and this organization—and I know our political leadership in the area, all the way up the ladder to federal—they stand ready to assist.”


“I think it’s a sad day, and I think that today and for this week, we’re going to mourn the loss, but then it’s time for us to move forward to develop a new economy,” said Janesville City Manager Steve Sheiffer.


“We have some time, so lets get the job done,” Sheiffer said. “Let’s bring in some new jobs, and let’s seek a new product (for the GM plant).”


Sheiffer and Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, both mentioned the potential for the governor and union leaders to join forces to persuade GM to retool the plant for a different vehicle.


Leaders of UAW Local 95 were not immediately available this morning. One said he would be happy to comment after Local 95 President Brad Dutcher spoke at a news conference that was scheduled for 1 p.m. today.


Gov. Jim Doyle announced he would be at the UAW Hall for the conference.


Robson said her heart goes out to the workers.


“We have a strong selling point in Rock County,” Robson said. “Businesses are looking for skilled workers with high energy, and we’ve got that,” as well assets such as good schools and colleges and Interstate 90/39.


“We’ll get beyond this. It’s going to be a little stumbling block for while, but we’ll get beyond this,” Robson said.


The state will help workers retrain, if that’s what they need, Robson said.


“We’ve got to find places where they can work, too,” Robson added. “Right now, I don’t have anything in mind other than to do what we’re doing.”


“The American economy will grow again,” Sheiffer said. “This is a good, solid manufacturing facility; good, solid leadership. Who knows there won’t be a new product in the future? But we can’t put all our marbles in that.”


Sheiffer said plans are moving forward for a previously announced community economic summit. A planning committee meets Friday to set a date.


“I think it’s critical now to rally the whole community into this discussion,” Sheiffer said.


Adjusting to the loss and to new realities will be difficult, leaders said.


Janesville School Board President DuWayne Severson suggested belt-tightening might include consolidating administrative functions with surrounding school districts, although he said districts should maintain their individual identities.


“I think we need to do that at this time, in light of the economic conditions we’re in,” Severson said. “So let’s talk and see if there are ways we can help each other.”


“I’m naturally concerned about the potential devastating effect on our community,” said Janesville public schools Superintendent Tom Evert. “The news will create an opportunity for Janesville to diversify its economy and come out even stronger after what I’m sure will be a period of turmoil and struggle.


“This absolutely is a time fore the community to rally and come together,” Evert said. “We must set clear and achievable economic goals. The school district will do all it can to support our students as anticipated difficult adjustments need to be made.”


Other comments:


-- “I’m deeply saddened at the news. It affects a lot of my family and friends and me personally. It’s very sad news, but I also have faith in the local UAW leadership and (Local 95) President Brad Dutcher. I think one of the things he will immediately do is push hard to replace the SUV in our plant with a new product to keep the Janesville plant open.” —Amy Loasching, city council president and regional benefits representative for the United Auto Workers.


-- “Today’s news is downright gut-wrenching for Janesville. Growing up and living in Janesville, this is something we’ve always feared. This would be a big psychological and economic blow to our community and our state, but Janesville will survive this because we simply have to survive this.” —Rep. Paul Ryan, R-1st District.


-- “For generations, the people of Janesville have poured their heart and soul into General Motors and have proven to be an incredible asset for the company. GM should immediately take steps to ensure the continued success of the GM plant, including retooling the plant for new production lines. I will continue to work with Gov. Doyle, Sen. (Herb) Kohl, Congressman Ryan, state and local officials, related businesses, and the leadership of GM to do all I can to support an ongoing and vital GM presence in Janesville. The people of Janesville have worked too hard for too long to deserve anything less.” —Sen. Russ Feingold.



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