How Janesville is doing 10 years after General Motors closed

Published: Dec. 23, 2018 at 5:51 PM CST
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On Dec. 23, 2008, the General Motors plant in Janesville closed down after decades in the community. Ten years later, the city is on its way to recovery, but some people think more needs to be done.

Ronald Splan worked at the General Motors plant in Janesville for 30 years. He retired a few months before the plant shut its doors and now serves as the vice president for UAW Local 95, a local union.

Splan said that when the plant shut down in Dec. 2008, it was a blow to the community.

"For a lot of people, it came as a huge shock. It had been here for so long, it was part of Janesville for forever," he said.

The plant employed thousands of people, often several generations of families, and its closing impacted the whole city.

"I know it certainly disrupted a lot of people's lives, not just the people that worked at the plant but everybody in the surrounding area," Splan said. "There were tons of support groups, our seat builders. Everything that worked or everything that made General Motors work was impacted by it."

Splan does think Janesville has made progress, but it has not been easy. He said the transition has been very slow.

In the past decade, the city has had to change its economic outlook. John Beckord, the president of Forward Janesville, said investment in infrastructure and the downtown area has helped Janesville recover.

"Over $2 billion in new investment, 4,900 jobs, unemployment rate is below 3 percent," he said. "Record high housing prices, record low vacancy rates on rental, record retail sales every quarter, quarter after quarter. We're really on a nice run."

The investment has started to attract new businesses and a new workforce. However, not everyone is feeling the benefits.

"We haven't gained good, what I would call, a living wage job," Splan said. "I've got many friends still that travel every weekend away from their family to follow their job."

Beckord thinks Janesville is better equipped to handle an economic slowdown in 2018 than it was 10 years ago. However, Splan says as Janesville continues to grow, it is important to keep the working class community in mind.

"We need to look out for each other and the working class people, the ones that are actually doing all the work and making the money," he said.

Plans for the future of the former plant are still in the early stages. In September, Janesville's economic development director said the site will be used for manufacturing.