'Going Home': Retraining Keeps Hope Alive in Upstate New York


In Cazenovia, outside Syracuse, Marquardt Switches Inc., a company that makes remote car starters. was forced to make drastic cuts in the recession. Its workforce went from 362 workers to 182, with 60 on the production line.

But rather than abandon its workers, the management at Marquardt Switches tried to help find their workers retraining elsewhere and continued to offer training to the workers who survived the layoffs.

Their hope? If the company ever did recover. it would hire everyone back, with their old skills and their new ones.

It was a hope they were able to fulfill, rehiring many of the former employees. They're now at a force larger than before the recession.

Kirk Wardell, director of operations at Marquardt Switches, said he had never imagined the turnaround. "No. Never," he said. "This is a complete surprise for us."

Even the smallest of businesses are trying to survive; something we found with a simple visit to my sister's farm in Borodino, N.Y.

Rebecca Muir has been growing heirloom vegetables for more than a decade. But in this economy, few people were interested in trekking to the farm to buy shares of her harvest. So she decided to deliver the harvest to them.

"They don't have to come to the farm, that's the one thing we took out for them," she said.

I helped packed the bags for delivery, doing my best to figure out what I was packing. My nieces and nephews who were looking on knew better.

Preparing Onondaga Students

It was a steep learning curve for me, in a town where lessons are being taught everywhere, even at my old high school.

We returned to my old history class at Onondaga Central Junior-Senior High School and discovered the young minds today are learning about the worst recession since the Depression.

The students no longer ask, "What will I be when I grow up?" instead asking, How many things can I be?"

Nearly half the class told me they had a parent who had lost a job or who had fought to keep one.

David Dwyer said his mother lost her job, but had prepared by broadening her skills.

"I learned from her that you have to be diverse in everything you do," Dwyer told me. Success comes "if you have more to bring to the table than just one particular skill."

It was a hard-taught lesson we found playing out even on our way out of town with a visit to Onondaga Community College.

It was there we again met up Tim Loucks. The same proud worker who held onto his Syracuse China three days before, now holding books as he headed to class for medical records technology.

"People in Syracuse are a tough people, " Loucks said. "I salute them, they're good workers."

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