- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

CLEARFIELD, Pa.
Most of the 360 laid-off workers who began looking last year for a single employer to hire all of them are still looking for jobs.
When word came last year that FCI Electronics would close its plant in Clearfield, laying off hundreds of employees, despairing workers in this small rural community came up with a desperate idea.
The 360 workers at the plant a maker of components for the telecommunications and computer industry began a last-ditch marketing campaign in the spring, offering themselves in trade magazines and other publications as a skilled, ready-made work force to any company willing to come to Clearfield.
It led to thousands of hits on an employee Web site and dozens of calls and visits to the plant by potential investors. But no takers.
Now, with the plant closed since December, some former employees are scattering, leaving the town they wanted to call home forever. The rest are hunkering down, waiting for manufacturing activity to pick up and the telecommunications industry to come out of its slump.
Sonnie Gearhart, 48, who worked at the plant 23 years, was born and raised in Clearfield. He says he might have to follow other workers who have left.
"Being in a rural area, you see these closings all the time, but, of course, it hits home when it's you," Mr. Gearhart said. "You get up every morning and you don't go to work. There does come a time when it is time to go."
Layoffs in Clearfield County arrived in waves in the past year 100 jobs at a clothing company; 150 at a hardwood-flooring manufacturer; 50 at the company that makes gas meters. FCI was the biggest blow, but workers figured they could parlay their skills and a near-perfect attendance record into jobs with a new employer.
"The working capital in this economy is just not there," said Rob Swales, a development specialist with the county's Economic Development Corp. "The people that were interested recognized the value of what was being offered, but it did not reach the point where they could get things up and running."
Mr. Swales and the workers wouldn't reveal the identities of the companies and investors who were interested, having promised confidentiality.
Technology experts say U.S. companies are likely to gain a larger share in global computer and telecommunications markets, but most jobs will be in design and marketing, not manufacturing.
That's a familiar refrain in Clearfield, a borough of about 6,600 people nearly 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh that has its roots in coal mining, logging and brickyards. As those industries faded in decades past, Clearfield and surrounding communities came to rely on manufacturing.
Many of those jobs left the area amid a rapidly changing global economy.
Paris-based FCI employed as many as 750 people in Clearfield during 2000, but then the industry went into a downturn. The work force was down to 360 when news came that the plant was shutting down.
Many FCI workers said they dreaded the thought of leaving Clearfield, with its pretty, red-brick buildings that overlook the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. But some workers are now gone.
They include Rick Conklin, an engineer who moved to Clearfield 23 years ago and who called his neighbors his closest friends. He recently sold the home where he raised a family, and left town.
"He went a little farther east to go back to school," said Jim Afton, who worked with Mr. Conklin.
Mr. Afton, a 37-year-old engineer, said he will stay, even if it means a long commute to a new job.
"I'm not going to lie and say it's not disheartening," he said. "It's like losing someone in the family to see everyone leave and then see the place emptied out. But we need to put the pieces back together."
But a recovery in Clearfield, where unemployment is consistently above the state average, is a daunting task companies just aren't expanding in this sluggish economy.
On the second Tuesday of every month, dozens of former FCI employees gather at Sapp Bros. Truck Stop for breakfast and to talk about who has found work and who has left town. Mr. Gearhart said that out of 35 persons at the most recent meeting, only two had found work.
He agrees with many who live here, the ones who say that they would rather be in Clearfield than anywhere else. But they are unsure about the town's future.
With two sons in high school, Mr. Gearhart says he won't uproot his family right now.
He may, however, have to uproot himself.
"My teenage boys have lives here, and I'm not going to take them away from that. But I may have to move away to find work until they graduate."

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