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Marengo Absorbing 138 Job Cuts - What's the Next Step?

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MARENGO, Iowa - Cindy McBride has owned the Lucky 6 Lanes on the city's southern edge for decades. Amid the lunch rush on a Wendesday, the talk of Quad/Graphics closing is paramount in the town.

"We don't need to lose any more jobs in Marengo," said McBride. "We want it to grow and prosper and we just hope the building doesn't sit empty and maybe we can bring someone else in."

Just a few blocks from the Lucky 6, a man in a pick-up truck slows down before pulling into the Quad/Graphics facility on the eastern edge of town.

"It's a shame," he says with the window rolled down.

Back in January, the Wisconsin-based printing company announced that it will close the Marengo plant in March. Now the week of the closing is here. Only a handful of cars and trucks remain in the employee lot as, when the plant closes, 138 jobs will be gone.

"I've talked to a few people down there," said Mike Curry, who serves on Marengo's city council and is the owner of Phat Daddy's restaurant in downtown Marengo. "Some have found jobs. A lot haven't."

Marengo is the seat of Iowa County with about 2,500 people. The largest employers in town are Marengo Memorial Hospital and the Iowa Valley Community School District. While Marengo is rural, it is not isolated as Iowa City is about a half hour east and Cedar Rapids is about 40 miles away.

"The proximity of these two cities, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, cannot be understated as far as finding opportunities for this workforce," said Craig Hamilton of the Iowa County Economic Development Commission. "The fact that it's a regional economy is important. Not everybody who lives in Marengo works in Marengo."

Hamilton said other opportunities for a similar skill set may be found
at Whirlpool-owned Amana Appliances in nearby Amana or Williamsburg-based Kinze Manufacturing.

Seventy miles to the north of Marengo is the town of Grundy Center. The similiarities between the two cities are stark. Both are rural county seats with similar-sized population. In 2012, Grundy Center endured major job losses as Bacon Veneer, a veneer manufacturing facility, announced about 50 jobs cuts. Mayor Brian Buhrow said Bacon Veneer now employs more than 20 people, far less than its peak.

"Anytime we lose employment or employers in a community, it's detrimental," said Buhrow. "We want to work as quickly as possible to get those people to steady their lives and get them employed."
Grundy Center also has a major city 30 miles away and Buhrow said some of the former Bacon Veneer workers found employment in Waterloo.

"I know some of the employees went to John Deere," said Buhrow. "Unfortunately, it's becoming more of a bedroom community but we're always looking at opening new businesses."

As the final shifts at Quad/Graphics approach, there will be a building that city and area leaders hope can be an asset for any companies looking to set up with a workforce ready to return to a payroll.

"You could have five or six companies look at the building," said Hamilton. "One of them may take it. It may put Marengo at the head of the pack as far as job opportunities go."

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