Saturday, March 12, 2011

ArcelorMittal Closes Hennepin Factory

Another death in what at one time promised to be the next big steel belt in the country. An article by Gary L. Smith, JS columnist, that ran on 1/4/2011, brought back old happy and sad memories. This plant was originally built by Jones-Laughlin steel company out of Pittsburgh. I have first hand knowledge of the excitement the news of a new major company in the Illinois Valley region promising hundreds of new high paying jobs. Other companies that produced products that would complement to J & L were expected to build in the area.

As J & L appeared to prosper, a few did. I am not sure what companies are left but I'm told only a few without much buying or hiring power.

I owned a branch Widmer Office equipment store in Peru and I was excited about the potential of new business not only for the valley but for my company also. I learned the name of the key contact at J & L in Pittsburgh, called and made an appointment. I booked a flight, met with J & L officials, asked them their needs and told them what I had to offer.

Returning to Peoria with high hopes from the positive dialogue with headquarters, I submitted a proposal letter and my proposition was accepted. J & L started with an office in a farmhouse. I recall hauling desks and chairs and other equipment in my station wagon to Hennepin. I assigned a Peru salesman to make regular sales calls and deliveries.

To shorten this story, J & L started buying office supplies, etc. and we delivered out of Peru and Peoria. My initial order was for approximately $25,000 of furniture and an agreement to furnish most of their office supplies.

As time progressed, the purchasing agent at J & L told me he expected more than good service; like what was in it for him. Lunch or dinner didn't count. He was looking for money, That was never the way I did business so shortly I lost the account to a company out of Chicago.

When J & L added more furniture, I was told the company had a contract with All Steel out of Aurora, a line that we did not represent. (Later on we became an AllSteel vendor, later replaced by Herman-Miller which is the major line my former company sells today).

The small town of Hennepin benefited greatly from J & L who financed a swimming pool, playground, etc. A new four lane highway was constructed from Rt. 89 down Rt. 29 to Hennepin, called back then the J & L highway.

As time progressed, J & L was merged or sold, I don't recall, with ArcelorMittal being the last tenant and now they too, are gone. What was once considered to be a growing new manufacturing belt stretching south to Peoria and north towards Chicago, turned out to another disappointment to Illinois valley residents.

The future of LaSalle County and surrounding counties providing high paying jobs are basically gone. One of my best customers, Carus Chemical, still appears to be thriving in the area.

One could write a book and someone probably has as to why all the bright promise this state once had for the manufacturing industry has faded away. It appears even Caterpillar will employ mainly office people as manufacturing appears to be heading to 'right to work states'. .
These are what I call "changing times"; these times being accelerate by the likes of Obama and Company, Quinn and Company and free spending and taxing Democrats like our own Dave Koehler. Less belligerent unions are on the horizon as witnessed by the relatively quick approval by the union of a long term labor contract with Caterpillar. Possibly, with Peoria County holding their ground with the AFSCME, and possibly with a more common sense school board and administrations, this area may grow at a faster rate than in the last decade.

Or it may be too late. Large private industry spending in the country is going to the red states and the massive public spending blue states like Illinois, will continue to sing the "blues".

So sad.

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