Windsor: Bracing for the blow
email@example.com February 10, 2012
Now a stylist at Lookin' Good Salon, Weber worries about similar hardship in this town if threatened job cuts at Vestas were to occur.
"It affects everybody, not just them," she said.
In a town weary from job losses, residents have grown anxious amid threats by Danish wind turbine maker Vestas to cut 1,600 manufacturing jobs. The only way to avoid the cuts, the company said last month, is if Congress extends a wind tax credit that is set to expire by the end of the year. As the largest employer in Windsor, Vestas employs 750 workers at its blade factory on the east side of town.
Residents often compare the situation to the closing of parts of Eastman Kodak's plant. The town still has not recovered from the hundreds of jobs it lost, in addition to rising unemployment in other sectors, residents say.
Vestas employees work throughout northern Colorado from Longmont to Fort Collins and Windsor, Town Manager Kelly Arnold said.
"They have such a large employment base in the region, it's going to be more of a regional impact than just Windsor," he said.
If Vestas continued to pay property taxes on the land occupied by its factory, the town faces little direct budgetary impact. But if Vestas workers sell their homes and leave town, property tax collections will fall and town services could suffer, he said.
Vestas needs the wind tax credit so it can remain competitive with fossil fuel industries.
Congress typically does not extend tax credits until close to when they expire, said Jon Chase, vice president of government relations. But Vestas has lobbied lawmakers to get the tax credit extended sooner because it makes turbines from orders placed one year in advance.
"Essentially, you need the (credit) out there in advance to get orders moving," he said. "Our efforts right now in Washington and across the country are focused on an immediate extension."
Some people have remained positive, saying they're confident that Vestas will keep its Windsor workforce. They point to federal lawmakers' stated support for the wind tax credits and Vestas' large investment in four factories throughout Colorado, including two in Brighton and another in Pueblo.
Built in 2008, the Windsor facility was Vestas' first Colorado factory. The company received about $4 million in tax rebates, grants and job-training funds from local and state agencies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The town of Windsor sweetened the deal with a 50-percent property tax credit lasting until 2018. It also waived several service fees.
Besides government subsidies, Vestas also has spent a great deal of money, including a reported $1 billion in the construction of its Colorado plants.
"It's not in their long-term interest to leave here," said veterinarian Robin Downing, owner of Windsor Veterinary Clinic.
Having weathered past downturns, Downing does not believe that her business will suffer.
But others anticipate hardship, based on their experience when Kodak cut jobs.
Leslie Buck noticed a "big change" at her Mexican restaurant, The Border, following the Kodak layoffs. A few large groups of Kodak employees used to eat there during lunch; today, only a few regulars visit.
Layoffs would affect the real estate industry, including apartment leases and home listings, said Pam Foster, owner of Windsor Realty.
"That's a lot of people to be put out of work in a small community like Windsor at one time, especially if it's two people in a family that lose their jobs," she said.
The Town of Windsor is worried about job losses, too, so staffers are working with Vestas representatives to lobby for renewal of the tax credit and have voiced their concerns to the governor's office, said Stacy Johnson, the town's business development manager.
"We're keeping a very sharp eye on what is going on," Johnson said. "It would be pretty detrimental if this tax credit does not get renewed."
Leaders of churches, community health centers and food banks are bracing for the worse.
Weld Food Bank makes it a point to be prepared at any time for potential layoffs by regularly soliciting food and financial donations, Assistant Director Bob O'Connor said. When layoffs are imminent, staffers visit affected businesses to inform employees facing job cuts about the organization's programs.
"It certainly does put a strain on the resources of the food bank when we have large-scale layoffs, especially in an economy like this, when the need is high to begin with," said O'Connor.
He said a number of Kodak employees sought help from the organization after their layoffs.
Over the last five years, the organization has seen a 77-percent increase in delivery of its emergency food boxes, a program dedicated to helping unemployed or underemployed workers. The food bank distributed more than 30,000 of those boxes and a total of 8 million pounds of food last year.
Although the economy is recovering, the organization set a record in December for the amount of food distributed. And it has seen a rising number of people relying on its services for longer periods.
Meanwhile, pastors said their churches would offer financial assistance to the unemployed.
Faith United Church of Christ would expect to see an influx of unemployed workers because it operates a food pantry serving Windsor, Pastor Fred Evenson said.
"Our particular church is probably affected by people losing their jobs more than the average as far as the food pantry," he said.
If laid-off Vestas employees lose their benefits, they could seek treatment for health problems at local community health centers like Sunrise Community Health, which operates nine clinics in Weld and Larimer counties. The clinics treat low-income, underinsured and uninsured patients.
Layoffs typically lead to an increased number of people avoiding what is relatively inexpensive preventative care and letting their health erode to the point that they are forced to seek expensive treatment in emergencies.
"We are continually looking for ways to expand our services, to bring more clinicians in, have more exam rooms so we can serve more people," said Mitzi Moran, president and CEO of Sunrise Community Health.
The clinic already has seen a recent spike in newly unemployed patients, she said.
As a result of hard times, Weber has noticed men with long hair and bushy necks around town. Women tend to avoid coloring their hair as often, she said.
If Vestas follows through with its threat, the town faces worse than shaggy appearances.
"Every time somebody gets laid off, we lose a client," Weber said. "It's a domino effect."
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