Guest Column: Manufacturing jobs have left the area

By Bradley R. Anbro

I am writing to take issue with Teresa Beach-Shelow’s op-ed piece titled “In Appreciation of Area Manufacturing” that was in the March 21, 2010, issue of the Rockford Register Star and also Robert Trojan’s op-ed piece in the Nov. 29, 2009, issue titled “Manufacturing Is Not Dying in the Rock River Valley.” I don’t know where these people live or who they talk to on a regular basis, but obviously it’s not the average person on the street and especially not the person who has been on unemployment for an extended length of time.

With the exception of a very few large area manufacturers and a number of “mom & pop” businesses, there no longer is any manufacturing in the Rock River Valley area, for all practical purposes. The other night, I compiled a list of industrial concerns that were either no longer located in Winnebago County or were a shadow of their former selves. I came up with a list of 35  companies, starting with Amerock and ending up with Warner Electric Brake’s Roscoe, Ill., plant.

ALL of these plants had good-paying jobs, and they are gone forever. Drive around Rockford and the surrounding area, and one can see building after building that sits EMPTY. I called up one of the large Rockford real estate outfits the other day and was connected with their commercial/industrial division. I asked the person with whom I spoke if there was anyone in the real estate business who knows the approximate number of square feet of commercial and industrial space that sits vacant and was told that they DID NOT KNOW.            It doesn’t matter which store you go into—Farm & Fleet, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, Target and especially Wal-Mart—just about everything offered for sale is now made in CHINA. A person can’t buy a shirt, a pair of pants or socks and underwear that is still made in the USA; it’s all imported. The United States has gone from a nation with a positive trade balance to a World-Class Debtor Nation. I just checked with the U.S. Census Web site and found that the USA’s trade imbalance (deficit) dropped from $39.9 BILLION in December 2009 to $37.3 BILLION in January 2010. These were the latest statistics that were available.

Depending on which statistics are cited, the average U.S. household debt is somewhere between $8,300 and $11,000—and that does not include home mortgages or home equity loans. Home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high. Drive down practically any street (carefully navigate the potholes), and one can see house after house that is for sale; many are foreclosed properties. It is a “buyer’s market” because the average person no longer has a good-paying job with which to purchase a residence.

I am 58 years old and was fortunate to have learned a skilled trade when I entered the workforce in 1974. I worked as an industrial electrician at one of the local companies that Ms. Beach-Shelow mentioned. After being employed there for over 19 YEARS, that company decided that they no longer needed the services of most of their maintenance personnel, and most of them, myself included, were permanently laid off. Until then, that company had prided itself on not having any significant lay-offs in its history. So much for company history…

I was then fortunate to be hired as an electrician by Tower Automotive Products Co. (f.k.a. A.O.Smith Automotive Products Company), where they produced frames for General Motors’ assembly plants in Janesville, Wis.; Romulus, Mich.; and Silao, Mexico. I worked there for six-and-a-half years and was responsible for helping to keep their three completely-automated assembly lines running. Tower lost GM’s contract for their “next generation” truck frames to a competitor, and the parent company permanently closed that facility.

After the closing of Tower Automotive, I was very fortunate to have been hired by Alcoa Wheel Products (f.k.a. Reynolds Wheels International) in Beloit, Wis. Their manufacturing facility was in the former Freeman Shoe Company building, just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. I began my employment there working in the paint shop, where they applied various clear and pigmented finishes to completely-machined aluminum wheels. I then worked in their foundry, where they cast the aluminum wheels from molten aluminum. I worked there for eight-and-a-half years and was laid off on April 3, 2009—shortly before they permanently closed that facility, the parent company having decided to completely get out of the business of supplying aluminum wheels to the automobile industry for cars and light trucks.

Twenty years ago, I could walk into practically ANY factory in Rockford or Winnebago County and get a job as an industrial electrician, with the job skills that I had acquired. Now, there are very few factories still in the area. The most recent factory job to which I had applied for an advertised electrician’s job had 20 applicants for the one job. I was not the one selected and subsequently took a “temp job” with a Rockford-area concern just to have an income.

It is now being said that the United States has moved from a “producing” to a “service” economy, and that the key to success now is to obtain a college degree. That is not true because even the engineering and more technical aspects of production are being out-sourced to foreign countries, along with the production jobs that have already left. Even having a college degree is no longer any guarantee of a rewarding financial future in the United States.

Our country is well on its way to becoming a “Third-World” country; we are the ones that owe all of the others—they don’t owe us. The millionaires keep getting richer (CEO pay, etc.), and the poor keep increasing in number. The middle class is decreasing in number at an alarming rate. No one seems to care; not the Democrats, not the Republicans nor anyone else, it seems.

Wal-Mart has an advertising slogan that says, “Save Money—Live Better.” A more accurate slogan for them to adopt would be “Save Money—Eliminate Your Job.” People in this country had better wake up pretty soon to what is actually going on before it’s too late. Maybe it is too late; maybe we’re “past the point of no return.” By God, I sure hope not, but I think otherwise.

Bradley R. Anbro is a resident of Roscoe, Ill.

From the April 28-May 4, 2010 issue

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