This Saturday, January 8, marks 20 years since Uniroyal-Goodrich announced that it would shut down its plant in Eau Claire.
Economic Development Director Mike Schatz says it's because the facility wasn't set up for modern tire-making, and because the industry itself was declining. The move cost the area 1,300 jobs.
In the first days of 1991, hopes were high among workers at the Uniroyal tire plant.
“We had had an inkling over the years that time might come,” former union president Darrel Wekkin said, “but we thought we had got over that hump.”
“They had us believing that we were there for the future,” former employee Julie Sandberg said.
The city says it saw a staggered reduction of the workforce over time.
Sandberg worked to manufacture parts of tires for almost all of 13 years.
“It spread like wildfire,” she said about talk of the plan before the announcement. “It would be very fair to say through a rumor.” She says the confirmation came January 8, on the news. Many workers’ last day came in the summer of 1992.
“Even though you get warning and kind of know it's going to happen, it's still kind of a shock when the actual event happens,” Schatz said.
“Everybody was just flabbergasted that...it can't, you know, it just can't close,” said Jack Kaiser, who later bought the complex with his father.
Workers continued on, until the last tires were finished.
“I remember it was a long ride home, thinking about everything,” Sandberg said, referring to the time after her last day at the plant. “It was a lot to get used to, not having that structure in your life.”
A spokesperson for Michelin, which bought the plant about a year before the announcement, told us in a statement that closing a plant is a very difficult decision, and one that is never taken lightly. The statement goes on to say that the company is happy to see the continued success of Eau Claire.
Cigan and Kaiser turned the complex into Banbury Place, which now houses more than 100 businesses and apartments.
Statement from Lynn Mann, Michelin Director of External Communications
"Closing a plant is a very difficult decision and one that is never taken lightly. The closure of the Eau Claire plant was announced by the leadership of Uniroyal-Goodrich in January 1991. The plant continued to operate until June 1992, giving affected employees 18 months to transition. During that transition time, we worked diligently with those valued employees, offering a range of benefits including an on-site professional outplacement center and preferential hiring at other Uniroyal-Goodrich facilities. Twenty years later, we are happy to see the continued success of Eau Claire as this wonderful community continues to thrive."