Hutchinson deals with layoffs at largest employerby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
The south-central Minnesota community of Hutchinson is working aggressively to support more than 1,000 people who were laid off at the city's biggest employer. Hutchinson Technology Inc., which makes components for computer hard drives, laid off more than one-third of its workforce companywide.
Hutchinson, Minn. — The food shelf in Hutchinson is busier these days. Marietta Neumann, who runs this food shelf and another in Glencoe for McLeod County, said more people are relying on food shelves to feed their families.
"There have been so many other places here in the county that have been laying off -- and in the surrounding area -- that in December, we served over 100 more households than what we did the previous year," said Neumann.
Neumann expects that demand to go up even more in a few weeks, when people who have recently been laid off at Hutchinson Technology stop receiving their paychecks and begin to rely on severance packages and unemployment benefits. Neumann said it'll be tough, but her food shelves are ready.
A few miles away at the Workforce Center, Nikki McGowan thumbs through a thick booklet called "Surviving a Layoff."
Almost two years ago, McGowan was laid off from her job at Hutchinson Technology. She had worked there for more than 20 years.
Now McGowan works with Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services as a placement specialist in Hutchinson. This time, she will be the one to hand out these survival guides to a large number of Hutchinson Technology employees who were recently laid off.
"I understand firsthand what a blow it is. Even though if you know it was a business decision, this layoff, and that you shouldn't take it personal, you can't help but feel hurt by it," said McGowan. "You're scared by it, and you're kind of in a fog for a while, trying to figure out what you're going to be doing."
Hutchinson Technology trimmed nearly 1,700 positions companywide. Most of these cuts took place at its headquarters in Hutchinson, a city with a population of about 14,000.
Minnesota Public Radio News talked to two of the laid-off workers, who didn't want to go public with their stories. They haven't told their families outside of the Hutchinson area. And one worker said the layoff will likely force his family to leave the area.
"There's no getting around that it's a difficult situation, and we don't want to minimize that at all," said Mayor Steve Cook.
Cook said Hutchinson has always been attractive to businesses, because it's a regional center with a diverse economy, from agriculture to retail.
"We have other businesses looking to expand here in Hutchinson. We're looking at expanding our industrial park, to help accommodate some of those and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves," said Cook. "While it is a difficult situation, there are some good things happening and we want to really focus on those as well."
At the end of December, the City Council approved the purchase of 68 acres to expand Hutchinson's existing industrial park, which is full with about a dozen businesses.
Miles Seppelt, the Hutchinson economic development director, said the city will start to develop that land right away in the spring. They're trying to recruit some renewable energy businesses, so they're calling it Energy Park.
"We want to diversify the economy, diversify the employment base, so that we can have 10, 15, 20 companies, hopefully, with employment of 100 to 200," Seppelt said. "Then if something happens to one of them, not that big of a hit for your community, and so that's another driver behind our development of Energy Park."
Behind HTI, Hutchinson's second-largest employer is 3M with about 1,400 employees. Seppelt said the community is more vulnerable during rough economic times when it has several thousand people working at one company.
But from Bill Corby's perspective, there are some opportunities for Hutchinson. Corby, the president of the Hutchinson Chamber of Commerce, said now is the time when people will consider going back to school or becoming an entrepreneur.
"In the past we've seen businesses come up because of those layoffs. Employees have come out of there and said, 'OK, I've had enough, I want to start my own business and here's what I'm going to do,'" said Corby. "There are several businesses here in town that have been offshoots from employees at HTI."
As challenging as the situation may be, leaders in Hutchinson say the city has a tenacious spirit to get through this difficult situation. And they say it has a strong record of weathering tough times to prove it.
- All Things Considered, 02/05/2009, 5:23 p.m.