Former Galesburg Maytag employee promises ‘life after Caterpillar’

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Eleven years after Galesburg’s Maytag factory closed and shipped jobs to Mexico, the wound is still fresh for Mike Patrick.

“Our blood, sweat and tears went in to making what we felt were the best refrigerators and freezers that were available,” said Patrick, who walked around the abandoned Maytag parking lot where he spent more than 40 years of his life.

Patrick, and the other 1,600 employees who lost their jobs when Maytag packed up and left, can relate to the recent announcement made by construction machinery and equipment company Caterpillar.

The industrial giant announced Thursday, September 24, 2015 plans to cut as many as 10,000 jobs as part of a restructuring plan to save $1.5 billion annually.

Thirteen years ago, two years before Maytag closed its manufacturing in Galesburg, when 1,600 employees learned they would lose their jobs. It was “shocking news,” said Patrick, who said the company had recently invested millions of dollars in improvements at the Galesburg plant.

Eleven years later, Galesburg's Maytag building remains empty.

Eleven years later, Galesburg's Maytag building remains empty.

“We had met with the company and had made a special deal to make a lot of improvements,” Patrick explained.

The one time union president stared at the crumbling plant on Thursday, explaining the old layout of the plant. Patrick said it’s still difficult to believe the plant closed 11 years ago.

“It was a surprise to everybody,” Patrick remembered.

“There were a lot of hard feelings, anger, frustration, hopelessness, kind of like grieving,” Patrick added.

While it was a difficult time for Patrick and many others, he said there’s hope for Caterpillar employees who do get laid off.

“There will be life after Caterpillar just like there was life after Maytag,” Patrick said.

Ken Springer, president of the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development, said major layoffs effect a community’s tax base, but the impact can be more widespread.

“I think any major company that has a layoff, you’re going to see a region-wide impact because if you think about it, a large company is going to have a supplier network that’s going to extend maybe 100 or 200 miles,” Springer said.

The negatives are evident, but Springer said layoffs can also supply community leaders with the ammunition to draw more employers because of the increased number of people looking for work in the community.

When it comes to the abandoned Maytag building, it’s still for sale, Springer said, and he’s optimistic a new business will one day purchase the building.