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Officials unsure how to retain DeKalb GE plant

DeKALB — DeKalb city and county officials are unsure how they could prevent General Electric from closing its DeKalb Motors Plant, but said they are open to options that would retain the manufacturer.

GE officials announced last week that they plan to close the DeKalb facility in the first quarter of 2015 unless union members can submit a proposal to make the plant cost effective for the company. Union members were given 60 days to submit a proposal to keep the plant at 1900 Pleasant St. open.

Workers at the plant are represented by two unions. Most are represented by IUE-CWA Local 1081 and IAM Local 2068 represents the rest. Kathy Brown, IUE-CWA Local 1081 president, said last week the unions would bargain jointly with the company and hoped DeKalb County would offer help to keep the plant from closing.

“We haven’t been in talks with them, and that’s something the city would take the lead on,” DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson said. “We certainly would be supportive. They’re very valuable to us.”

GE has operated at the facility since 1946. If the plant closes, 94 employees would lose their jobs.

By Monday afternoon, no one from GE has contacted the city, according to Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu.

If someone does contact the city or the county, it’s unclear what incentives could be offered.

Hanson and Espiritu couldn’t remember a time their respective governments have offered perks to prevent a company from closing. Incentives such as tax abatement require input from various taxing bodies and are typically used to bring new companies to the area, they said.

“I’m not sure we could offer anything,” Espiritu said. “If they have something to present, we would look at it, but as of this time no one has approached us.”

GE falls in the top 20 to 25 manufacturers in the county, said Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation. Ideal Industries is the largest, with more than 300 employees. A number of manufacturers employ more than 100 people.

Borek is working with officials with the city, the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Kishwaukee College to determine what kind of retention tools can be used to prevent GE from leaving.

“Right now we are putting together a plan of action to learn what we can do to assist and marshall resources,” Borek said.

The economic development corporation has previously worked with these partners to provide GE consultant support, workforce training and lean manufacturing to improve productivity and operations.

Once Borek and others have decided what help to offer, they will sit down with GE representatives, he said.

“Depending on GE’s needs, we may be able to provide assistance,” Borek said.

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