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Position:Bloomington, Indiana copes with factiory closings - Brief Article

Bloomington's workforce survives huge loss of manufacturing jobs.

No Indiana city has witnessed an exodus of manufacturing jobs in the past year like Bloomington.

In June, the GE refrigerator plant laid off 922 workers and the Columbia House processing plant cut 190 workers, the largest one-week cutback in city history. Then Otis Elevator Co. announced in August it will eliminate 460 of the roughly 800 jobs at its Bloomington plant.

In all, Bloomington and Monroe County lost about 14 percent of its manufacturing jobs from July 2000 to July 2001. This followed the 1998 layoff of more than 1,000 workers from the Thomson Consumer Electronics plant. After years of growth in manufacturing, the sector fell from 10,001 jobs in 1997 to 8,100 in July 2001, a drop of 20 percent in three years.

"Other areas in Indiana have experienced losses, but not as rapidly as we have, says Linda Williamson, director of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp.

Yet, Monroe County's labor force hasn't shrunk as manufacturing jobs have been lost, according to a September analysis by the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. Employment growth in health care and small businesses that make use of Bloomington's well-educated workforce have quietly offset the highly publicized job losses. Not all of the new jobs pay as well as the lost union jobs, but their net effect has been to keep Bloomington's economy strong.

The impact of Bloomington's manufacturing losses isn't as severe as it might have been, because even before the layoffs Bloomington had the smallest share of manufacturing jobs among Indiana metro areas. Despite the losses, key local economic indicators have continued to rise. For instance, personal income in Monroe County and the assessed value of property in Bloomington have grown each of the past five years.

"I think what's happening is pretty remarkable if you consider the loss of manufacturing jobs we've had," says Bloomington Mayor John Fernandez. "People who could have located their knowledge-based businesses anywhere are choosing to be here. I think there's an incredible future in Bloomington due to brain power, quality of life and availability of labor."

One such employer is lstBooks Library, a book publisher that opened in Bloomington in 1997 and has grown to 85 employees. Like many local companies, one of lstBooks' founders, Tim Jacobs, has ties to Indiana University. Jacobs was teaching graduate classes...

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