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Shuttered Plant Marks The End Of A Nevada Town

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The United States Gypsum Company shut down its gypsum mine and drywall plant in Empire, Nev., earlier this year. It's a small town about 100 miles northeast of Reno in the Black Rock Desert. Now the town itself, which the company also owns, is closing its doors. Robert Siegel talks with USG plant manager Lonnie Dyck about the end of Empire.


To the list of casualties of the recession, add one entire town: Empire, Nevada. The crash of the housing market and other construction has left the country with a surplus of homes. And that means that construction is down, which means that orders for home construction materials are down and in this case, orders for drywall are down.

So United States Gypsum, which makes sheetrock, has shut down its gypsum mine in Nevada and the facility around it. In this case, the facility includes the town of Empire, Nevada, population, until recently, 350.

Joining us to talk about the loss of Empire is Lonnie Dyck, who used to live and work there and who is now the U.S. Gypsum manager who's in charge of the shutdown. Thanks for talking with us.

Mr. LONNIE DYCK (Plant Manager, U.S. Gypsum): You're welcome, glad to be here today.

SIEGEL: You're there now. Tell us a bit about Empire, Nevada, and what kind of a town it was.

Mr. DYCK: Well, Empire is a small town on the edge of Blackrock Desert. You know your neighbors, sometimes better than you want to. It seemed like they always knew what was going on before you did.

SIEGEL: But when you say that you knew your neighbors, that's because everyone there would work for United States Gypsum, right? I mean, everything was owned by U.S. Gypsum.

Mr. DYCK: We worked and we played together.

SIEGEL: There's a nine-hole golf course, tennis court.

Mr. DYCK: Yes, nine-hole golf course, one of the toughest courses I've ever played. But it made my short game a lot better because it was short.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Now, I've read that kids from Empire went to a school that the town shared with nearby Gerlach, Nevada. Gerlach is still around, so the school I guess will survive. But this is fascinating: the zip code 89405 will disappear with Empire.

Mr. DYCK: 89405, the post office was actually closed I want to say about three weeks ago.

SIEGEL: So it is no more, that zip code.

Mr. DYCK: It is no more.

SIEGEL: Did U.S. Gypsum offer to relocate people who lived there and worked in the plant or the quarry to some other facility?

Mr. DYCK: We did relocate a few within the company. Mining is very hot in Nevada, and a lot of the gold mines and other associated industries with those were looking to hire people. So most people found employment before the term was up, and we were going to close the village. So there's very few people remaining here in that respect.

SIEGEL: Was there any time when you were living and working in Empire, Nevada, in this company town, when you felt like the last thing I need right now, just for this weekend, is to have to have a neighbor on the left, a neighbor on the right, and a neighbor across the street, all of whom are my colleagues from the plant here in Empire?

Mr. DYCK: I don't think that ever bothered me. If you wanted to get away, you went to Reno, and you watched a movie, and you went and had a nice dinner, and you bought your groceries, and you came home. Or conversely, one of the things I always loved to do was to get in my pickup and go explore out in the middle of nowhere.

You'd get on top of the mountains here, and you could look for a 360-degree vista, and you might be the only person in 400 square miles. It's kind of an awe-inspiring thought to know that you're one of a very few number of people that are in this area right now.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Dyck, thank you. I should say again Lonnie Dyck is the manager for the U.S. Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada, and the status of that company town as of today?

Mr. DYCK: It's closed.

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