Factory towns still shed jobs
In Mississippi River communities, uptick in economy doesn't stop tide of layoffs.
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If the Premcor plant closes, the district could lose more than $300,000 or about 5 percent of its budget because of lost property taxes. The last time the schools faced such a crunch, when the local Amoco refinery closed in the mid-1990s, the district had to increase class sizes and let three of its 51 teachers go. The manufacturing decline has changed the relationship between companies and communities.Skip to next paragraph
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"There was a time that major industry and big-money people would come into a community and they wanted to know: 'What can we do to make that community better?' " Mr. Busch says. "Today, whether we're talking about an oil refinery or a clean industry, like a software distribution center or a baseball team, it's: 'What can you give us to encourage us to stay here?' "
Despite the gloom, residents of Hartford have not given up hope. There's talk of Phillips buying some or all of the Premcor plant across the street. "If they shut down, I am sure someone is going to pick it up," says Virginia Downer, Hartford's budget officer, sitting in the newly remodeled village hall, which still smells of fresh paint and new carpeting.
Nevertheless, the loss of Premcor, Hartford's largest taxpayer, could mean the loss of up to a quarter of its budget, she estimates. The village has already put a stop to sewer work and other projects. If no new business comes in, the village's reserves could tide the community over for two years, she adds.
By that time, nearby Granite City should know the fate of its far larger steel plant, which has been in operation for 124 years.
Steel imports have decimated the domestic industry, forcing dozens of producers into bankruptcy and causing even the free-trade-minded Bush administration to announce new measures to stem the imports.
Ironically, National Steel filed for bankruptcy the day after the president's announcement. So far, operations continue as normal. The company believes it can compete if the bankruptcy court allows it to restructure its debts, says Anita-Marie Hill, a company spokeswoman. Others aren't quite so sanguine. "This industry is in a life and death situation," says Dave Dowling, a local official with the United Steelworkers of America. "We may not have this industry in the next few years."
Even if it stays, no one expects the region's manufacturing jobs to tick upward. "If we're looking for future job growth in southwestern Illinois, we're going to be looking at different sectors" than manufacturing, says Mr. Pennekamp. His regional development group is focusing on information technology. The American Water Works Company, a big national utility, recently decided to locate a national call center in the area.
Even here in Hartford, where Premcor represents 20 percent of his business, local restaurateur Bob Dannenberg envisions a shift from the village's industrial past. He shows off plans to expand his three-table rib house into a 60-seat facility capable of handling tour buses. Why would they come? Tourism, he says.
The new Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center down the road is expected to open in time to commemorate the bicentennial of the famous explorers' 1804 launch from the area.
"That could cause my business to mushroom," he says.