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Our view: Keep GE plant open

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

It’s a story that has played out over and over again in towns across America: A local manufacturing operation is at risk of closing because it can not compete with lower-cost, overseas operations.

This time it is the General Electric Motors Plant on Pleasant Street in DeKalb, where workers make motors for residential clothes dryers. The company has told the two unions representing workers there that motors made in DeKalb are 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive than it can get elsewhere.

If the unions can not come up with a plan to significantly cut costs in a little less than two months, GE plans to close the plant in 2015, with 94 workers in line to lose their jobs.

General Electric has operated a plant in DeKalb since 1946, and is one of the 25 largest manufacturing employers in DeKalb County, Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., said. Losing the operation would be a blow to the local economy, and officials should do whatever they can within reason to keep those jobs here.

Borek says the DCEDC is working with the city, the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Kishwaukee College to come up with ideas on how to keep the company in DeKalb County.

It is not the first time the economic development corporation has worked with the company, nor is it the first time that workers there have faced layoffs.

In the end, after government and suppliers and others do all they can, it will be up to workers at the plant to decide how much sacrifice they are willing to make.

Many of the workers at the plant are longtime employees – almost half of those affected would be eligible for retirement benefits through the company, officials have said.  The rest would receive plant closure benefits including preferential hiring treatment at other company facilities, tuition for new job training, and other benefits.

However, losing an employer can cost a community beyond just the people who have jobs now. Once a place of employment is gone, opportunity is lost not only for those working there now, but for those who would work there – and live here – in the future. It also turns a productive, functioning factory building into a large, empty shell of a building that can take years to find a new user.

We support the effort to keep the plant open in a way that makes sense for the workers and the company.

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