Uniroyal closes doors, Eau Claire primed

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 1992  | July 1992 issue

When Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co., once the city's largest employer, shut its doors on the last 600 workers at the end of June, Eau Claire was prepared.

The company laid off employees gradually following the January 1991 announcement of the closing. And Uniroyal and Eau Claire community leaders immediately began preparing the 1,375 work force and the city for the loss of Uniroyal's $45 million annual payroll.

State and federal aid and educational assistance packages have been funnelled through the Employee Assistance Center, jointly sponsored by the company, the union and the city's Private Industry Council. The center will remain open to help workers for at least the next six months, according to center staff worker Elaine Dekan. "We'll be here if they just want to come in and talk," Dekan says.

Workers have taken advantage of aid through the federal Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) that provides the community with a buffer against the loss of wages, Tabor says. Through the TAA, funds have been made available to workers for two years of training and for extended unemployment benefits. While this money doesn't replace the payroll, it does cushion the blow, Tabor adds.

Over the past year nearly 200 workers transferred to another Uniroyal plant, 300 enrolled in retraining or other educational programs, 325 have reached retirement eligibility and the rest have found other jobs or remain unemployed.

According to Tabor, the Job Service shows that numerically most of the lost jobs have been replaced, but not at comparable salaries or duties. "Quality jobs are what the community is looking for," Tabor says.

To that end, the private Eau Claire Area Industrial Development Corp. is constructing two small buildings in industrial parks across town from each other to entice new businesses to locate in the area.

And local financial institutions have put together an $11.5 million loan pool to primarily finance the cost of leasing buildings by development corporations to further encourage new business activity. "We have a shortage of buildings in Eau Claire," says Mike Schatz, the city's economic development specialist, "and without that availability we have little to show."

The city has also created a $600,000 revolving loan fund that will make money available to Uniroyal workers who want to start or buy their own business, and to existing business operators whose plans would create jobs for laid-off Uniroyal workers. The first approved loan application was from former Uniroyal workers to start a specialty cleaning operation.

Meanwhile Uniroyal and a committee of civic and business leaders are working on plans for the 1.9 million square foot vacated plant. "Under the right circumstances the plant could be the right space; it's not something a lot of communities have," Schatz says.

Kathy Cobb