Jul 20, 2012

Life after General Motors – Janesville area economy on its way back

Excerpted from BizOpinion
by Tom Still

Jeff Helgesen, one of Rock County’s largest developers, doesn’t parse words when he’s asked if the Janesville area is better off today than it was when General Motors Corp. was the 800-pound gorilla in town.

“No question about it: I think Janesville is much better off today,” said Helgesen, president of Helgesen Development Corp. “We’ve shifted to a more technological type of business and to (computer-driven) manufacturing. We were forced to come to grips with our future.”

There are still plenty of laid-off GM workers who would disagree, but the rebirth of a diverse economy in Janesville, Beloit and the rest of Rock County is a success story in the making. It bears watching by other communities in Wisconsin.

The closing of the Janesville GM assembly plant in late 2008 meant 5,000 jobs at GM and other auto-related firms were wiped out, sending Rock County into a tailspin just as the worst of the recession hit Wisconsin and the nation. The county’s unemployment rate peaked around 13 percent.

Of late, however, the news out of Janesville and Beloit has been much better. Companies such as Kettle Foods, United Alloy, Universal Recycling Technologies, SSI Technologies and Kerry Ingredients have expanded.

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