CHICAGO, March 3 – Faced with an onslaught of grim economic news, the White House has seized upon the rebirth of a small Chicago window factory as a sign that its massive stimulus plan is working.
Republic Windows and Doors became a symbol of growing economic discontent after 250 abruptly laid-off workers in December staged a sit-in, demanding the bank that had cut off the company\’s line of credit free-up funds for the severance pay they were guaranteed by law.
The workers won their pay in a matter of days and last Thursday won some of their jobs back when California company Serious Materials, which makes energy-efficient building materials, bought the factory and offered to rehire the workers at their union pay rates.
"The reopening of this factory and the rehiring of these workers provide an excellent example of how the money in the Recovery Act is targeted to spur job creation quickly," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday.
"These workers will not only earn a paycheck again; they will go back to work creating products that will benefit America\’s long-term economic future."
Economists caution that a single factory is not an indicator that the stimulus plan signed into law on February 17 is having an impact on the economy as a whole.
While some of the 787 billion dollars in government spending should have an immediate impact in terms of increased demand for goods and services, the bulk of the money will take months to trickle through the economy, said Deborah Lucas, a professor of finance at Northwestern University.
"The point is to make everyone feel more confident and be more willing to go out and hire people," Lucas told AFP.
While other companies have cut back amid a collapse in the housing market, Serious Materials has increased its capacity tenfold in the past month with the acquisition of the Chicago factory and another bankrupt window factory in Pennsylvania.
It\’s banking on the billions in dollars in stimulus money allocated to making government facilities, private homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient to help boost its business.
"We have been growing," chief marketing officer Sandra Vaughan said in a telephone interview.
"What this is really doing is giving us the ability and confidence to grow dramatically faster."
Serious Materials has received "a great deal of support" from local officials to reopen the Chicago factory, Vaughan said.
It\’s also won some great publicity, with the story appearing in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and on several major television newscasts.
It plans to reopen the factory slowly, with 30 to 50 workers rehired in the coming weeks to get the factory set-up to produce its high efficiency windows and others brought back as the orders come in.
Melvin Maclin, who worked at Republic for nine years and was the vice president of the local union, is hoping the rehiring comes sooner rather than later.
"Winning that settlement against the bank, that was a great thing. But actually going back to work is the meat and potatoes," he said Monday.
"I found out when one of our reps calls me at 10:30 at night. I woke my wife up and we did a little victory dance."