These reports are all to familiar for many of us who have felt the job losses among our friends and families first hand. In addition, a plant in South Haven will close sometime this month leading to the loss of some 279 jobs. This is a significant loss considering South Haven only has 1,070 industrial jobs total, meaning it only 2/3 of those jobs will remain after the closing. Though local officials are working to diversify the community, it will take some time to restore losses this large.
The Gazette interviewed a cross-section of the community and found many poignant stories that brought the stark numbers to life. Not surprisingly, many we talked with were reluctant to share publicly their personal tales.
A single mother who previously earned more than $60,000 a year moved to Kalamazoo from out of state to care for a sick parent. She left behind more than a job -- she lost her home, her car, and some of her pride. She now lives with that parent, is supported by that parent and has only found occasional part-time employment.
Then there's the married father of two who was downsized out of his career after 32 years. A family member offered him a job out of state, but he can't sell his home for a large-enough sum to cover the mortgage. And not only does he feel stuck, his wife's job could be on the chopping block. Without her job, the family loses its health insurance, a devastating possibility considering one of their daughters is ill and recently moved back home.
Meanwhile, teachers who cannot afford to retire are disrupting school budgets. Sixteen teachers are retiring from Kalamazoo Public Schools, less than half the usual number. A state buyout planned that failed early this month has limited financial flexibility of those wanting to retire. This adds to budget woes already faced by some schools - Portage schools are now poised to cut teachers, buses and custodians in an effort to balance their budget.
There is some hope on the horizon as Joe Biden's visit to the region announced a new federal bond program that could inject $102 million into Southwest Michigan's economy. The plan could allow government and private businesses in Michigan to sell $2 billion in bonds. Kalamazoo County could get $46.1 million; Allegan County, $18.9 million; Cass County, $9.9 million; St. Joseph County, $14.0 million; and Van Buren County, $13.5 million, according to the U.S. Treasury.
The program has two types of bonds. Recovery Zone Facility Bonds give private businesses a low-cost way to finance capital projects such as building a hotel or manufacturing plant, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds allow state and local governments to finance projects such as infrastructure improvements or job-training and educational programs.Good news to give support to development in SW Michigan that has been halted if not reduced over this economic downscale. Regardless, the PRI has its work cut out for it in the coming months.