Eau Claire responds to Uniroyal closing

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

Eau Claire's Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. will lay off the last of its 1,300 plant workers in the next few months. But community plans for retraining those workers are already well under way.

In July, more than 500 workers will already be out of work. And when the doors close for the last time, 13 percent of the 10,500 manufacturing jobs in Eau Claire and neighboring Chippewa counties will have been lost, along with the $43 million annual payroll Uniroyal provided.

Retraining or fine-tuning skills is an option sought by two-thirds of Uniroyal workers. With manufacturing jobs like those at Uniroyal continually lost across the nation, says Paul Tabor, labor market analyst at the Job Service in Eau Claire, retrained workers will be further ahead with some specific skill training.

Through federal and state grants totaling more than $700,000, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) will provide tuition assistance and special programs for laid-off workers. And by mid-June, 123 individuals were already enrolled at CVTC with 81 more on the waiting list.

Norbert Wurtzel, CVTC district director, says the message conveyed by the Uniroyal closing is reaching young people in Eau Claire too. "They're saying 'we have to be sure we have more marketable skills—we don't want to get caught like the Uniroyal workers.'"

Still, the picture looks a little brighter for those workers than originally predicted. According to a March state Job Service survey, employers in a 10-county area in northwestern Wisconsin say about 5,300 jobs could open up by the end of 1992.

The survey determined that about 45 percent of the jobs were in blue collar occupations. "While everyone decries the death of the manufacturing sector, we're getting at least some demand for the middle-of-the-road blue collar worker," Tabor says. He adds that about 60 percent of the survey jobs didn't require any more than a high school education and would be a good fit for unskilled Uniroyal workers.

But Wurtzel says one of the problems facing the laid-off Uniroyal workers is that they tend to have their lifestyle at their Uniroyal income level. And the jobs described in the survey are largely entry level, Tabor says, and too low-paying to maintain that same lifestyle.

Kathy Cobb