“We worked so hard to try and save that plant,” Sheridan said. “We carried the whole corporation for a lot of years because we were the only ones building [big SUVs]. That was the only thing selling for years, and we couldn’t work enough overtime.”
When GM closed Janesville, dominoes cascaded through the community. Lear Corp. closed its Janesville seating plant, putting 800 more people out of work. Local charities that depended on sizable contributions from GM and its employees suffered.
“What middle class looked like in Janesville really changed,” said Tim Perry, administrator of Crossroads Counseling Center, which used to get a third of its business from the GM plant, courtesy of the automaker’s generous insurance benefits. “This was a town where General Motors employees lived next to doctors and lawyers. Now, there’s more of a separation.”
As laid-off workers began accepting far-off transfers to keep their paychecks coming in, the stress and distance took its toll on many families. Perry saw couples divorce and poverty increase.
“Those employees missed a lot of sports activities, school stuff, birthdays,” he said. “It was real hard on them.”
In the last couple of years, though, Perry said, he is “starting to feel a little bit of hope in the community.” The economy has improved greatly, home values are higher, more jobs are available, and downtown Janesville has gotten busier again. Many of the workers who transferred have come back home for good, though Perry said some have found that readjustment stressful, too.
“That was such a monstrous institution,” he said. “It felt like it was never going to go away. Now, to watch it get torn down, it’s a surreal experience for a lot of people. A lot of people’s lives were in there.”