Local News

Five years after GM loss, Janesville recovery in gear

Unemployment in Janesville around 7.6 percent

JANESVILLE, Wis. - 23495508

"It was an adjustment. Ironically the first thing to go was my brand new Suburban."

That's former Janesville GM auto worker Jeanie Rodenberg, one of the 5,200 people to lose their job when GM left Rock County in 2008.

Five years later, despite a rough economy, unemployment is around 7.6 percent in Janesville.

Not long after GM left, unemployment was as high as 17 percent.

"(I'm) second generation," said Rodenberg. "Both my parents retired from there, it was something you hoped you'd get to retire from. But you just never know nowadays."

Rodenberg spent 11 years working on the line at GM's plant in Janesville.

"I did a lot of stuff with airbags, installed a lot of airbags," remembers Rodenberg. "I installed locks. I worked in trim, which is the inside of the vehicle."

Her family of four became a single income household when the plant closed.
She spent about two years as a stay-at-home mom.

"You just cut back, you don't go out to eat as much, you just watch what you spend a lot more and the money we did get from the buyout does help you adjust a little bit," she said.

Gail graham, business services coordinator with the Southwest Workforce Development Board, said the community has made significant gains.

"We are still in the midst of a recovery, but we're recovering, and that's the important part. We really are starting to recover," said Graham.

"I think we're improving in our job market which is evident by not only the unemployment rate, which is lower," continued Graham. "Granted, still in Beloit it's the second highest in the state, but it's much lower than it was back in 2008."

Rodenberg has a college degree, but went back to school after the GM closing to update her computer skills.

She said that helped her land a job in the merchandising department at Farm and Fleet.

Rodenberg remains optimistic about the future of her home town.

"I've talked to people that I worked with and they've gone to school and they're getting jobs," said Rodenberg. "They're finishing up their education. They don't make nearly as much as they used to like the rest of us, so I think it will take a while for the economy to recover."

More help is on the way for those still out of work, as the Southwest Workforce Development Board is in the process of writing some grants for training programs to give folks the skills they need to get hired.

Look for complete coverage on the anniversary of the closing of the GM plant from The Janesville Gazette.

The paper is currently running a special series called "Shifting Gears," that will look at what jobs are replacing the ones lost, and what might be going into the still-empty Janesville site.

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