Eau Claire jobs picture a moving one

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 1995  | July 1995 issue

When Eau Claire lost more than 1,300 tire plant jobs in 1992 and 400 computer technology jobs in 1993 to company closures, many predicted economic disaster. But these jobs have been replaced nearly one for one over the past three years, with more to come.

In 1994 alone, 1,000 new jobs were created as a result of growth in every business sector. And Eau Claire County's unemployment rate hovers around 4 percent. When two Eau Claire medical facilities merged, instead of losing jobs, the city gained more jobs largely through new medical services. And, says Mike Schatz, economic development specialist for the city of Eau Claire, the mergers brought more doctors and their high incomes to town.

The defunct Uniroyal Goodrich tire plant became Banbury Place, a multi-tenant facility with more than 300 jobs and 41 businesses. "It's like its own industrial park within walls," Schatz says. While he would still like to have those tire plant jobs back, having the building available has been a good marketing tool for the community, Schatz says. "It's hard to replace the large wage base it represented."

The jobs roller coaster continues in 1995. As the result of a merger, the regional power company will close its Eau Claire office, affecting 250 jobs. But Minnesota's Hutchinson Technology Inc. announced that it would open a new manufacturing plant with 1,400 workers later this year, and Indianapolis-based Compression Engineering will build a plant and hire 100 skilled workers.

In addition, the computer company that shut its doors in 1993 is making a comeback and those highly skilled employees who left then are beginning to return. And other computer industry companies are expanding, Schatz says.

While some manufacturers that move or start businesses in Eau Claire take into consideration that the wage scale is lower than in larger metropolitan areas, Schatz says the lower wage draw doesn't hold true for electronics jobs. And as the manufacturing sector expands and the job market tightens, Schatz says, "If employers want the best people, they may have to pay to get them."

Expanding and new companies are offered incentives through state and local funding programs, Schatz says. "If existing industry has expansion plans, they'll be offered the same perks as new companies," Schatz says. "Existing industry is what's fueled the growth."

Kathy Cobb