Janesville61.4°

Sheiffer calls for economic summit in wake of GM news

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JAMES P. LEUTE
May 7, 2008
— Janesville took a hit last week from news that General Motors will slash production in Janesville and eliminate 750 jobs.

City Manager Steve Sheiffer believes now is the time for the community to pull together and chart the city’s economic development strategy for the next 20 years.


Sheiffer wants to stage a community-wide economic development summit this summer that will pull together a variety of perspectives.


“We need to focus on the future and deal with the realities of what’s occurred,” Sheiffer said. “Everyone is so focused on a blip, and their first reaction is, ‘Oh my golly, woe is me.’


“But we’ve got an opportunity, here, to bring the community together to create a new vision for the next 20 years.”


Sheiffer, who outlined his plans for the city council Tuesday night, will appoint a seven- to nine-member steering committee to do most of the legwork for the summit. The committee will include representation from City Hall, the business community, organized labor, education, utilities and residents.


Sheiffer said he’s not certain where the daylong summit will lead, and that’s the point.


“The community can decide if it’s enough just to be an auto town,” he said. “We’re an auto town, and I think we’ll always be an auto town. But we’re also so much more.


“We need to find out where the community wants to go and what the local economy will look like in 20 years.”


He noted that it’s been more than 20 years since the city last staged such an event. That summit also came on the heels GM bad news—the exodus of GM workers in Janesville to Fort Wayne, Ind.


“With this summit, we’re not writing GM off,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville. “In fact, it’s important for the community to come together and determine what it can do to help retain production here.


“But this is not a summit on GM. It’s an appropriate response to what’s happening right now and that real story of the local economy is a more complicated than many understand and different than it was even five years ago.”


In advance of the summit, the city will compile a range of information and data to help inform participants.


The summit likely will include an overall economic presentation followed by breakouts for groups to brainstorm about the city’s economic future.


The result, Sheiffer said, will be a strategic plan for economic development and the development of work skills to support it.



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