GM plant closing tears at Ohio community

"There's not really any alternative," says GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson. "In order for the company to be viable going forward ... we need fewer plants. That's the reality."

Starting over

The Allisons moved to Ontario to work at the stamping plant five years ago when the auto parts maker where they worked in Dayton scaled back.

"When we came up here we were told it was the best plant. ... We felt safe coming up here," says Rick Allison, 30. "The fact that it was going to stay open for many, many years was another plus, but obviously, it did not turn out to be the truth."

They've been out of work since December, except for two weeks in April when the company called them back temporarily.

They are each eligible for a $45,000 buyout to leave GM, or they can take a chance that the 10 years they have in the company puts them high enough on the seniority list that they can transfer to another plant.

The uncertain future weighs heavily. With a newborn baby and three daughters under 12, do they gamble with GM to hang onto their health insurance? Or do they each take the buyout and cut their ties to the company?

"You want to make sure you are doing the best for your family, but you don't know that until things pan out eventually," says April Allison, 32. "I'm scared to death."

Either way, they know they won't be staying in Ontario.

"We're going to go back home and start over," says Rick Allison. "We had lives before GM; we'll have lives after GM."

'We have cut back'

As the Allisons prepare to start over elsewhere, their landlord, Angelo Sorrenti, is expecting more turnover in the 20 three-bedroom houses he rents out.

The $650 to $700 monthly rents he collects supplement the income on his homebuilding business, Arcangelo Builders, which has taken a bad hit since the economy tanked last fall.

Sorrenti, who built homes that sold for up to $500,000, went from putting up five houses a year and employing nine people to building none this year and laying off seven workers.

Now, he's working on smaller jobs he wouldn't have taken a year ago, such as remodeling kitchens and bathrooms.

The plant closing comes in an already tough time for Richland County home sales. Latest figures show 87 homes sold in June, down from 113 the same month last year. The average sale price fell to $78,015, down from $92,364 in June 2008.

"This is the slowest period I've ever experienced in the last 28 years," says Sorrenti, 51.

So he is scaling back. He was thinking about replacing the pickup he bought at Graham's Auto Mall eight years ago, but now that's out.

"We have cut back in all areas of our life," he says. "If everybody does that, we'll be hurting more and more in our community."

Even so, he is upbeat about the place that became his home when he left Italy 38 years ago.

"I have seen this happen in the early '80s, when many factories closed," Sorrenti says. "But believe it or not, we've been able to re-adapt going through these difficult times, which is why I tend to have a positive outlook for us."

Fear of the unknown

At Graham's in Mansfield, where the mainstay of the business for 40 years has been GM cars, sales are down 25% for the first five months of 2009 from the same time last year, says general manager Kenneth Williams.

As more customers like Sorrenti hold off car purchases, Graham's has laid off three workers out of 165 in January. One was Steve Brown, a sales manager who's been in the car business for 20 of his 49 years.

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