Midwest Factory Has Workers Paint, Garden And Sell One factory in a small Midwestern town hasn't laid off its workers during the recession. Instead, it put its employees to work on tasks that it used to farm out, including painting, gardening and selling produce at a local farmers market.
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Midwest Factory Has Workers Paint, Garden And Sell

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Midwest Factory Has Workers Paint, Garden And Sell

Midwest Factory Has Workers Paint, Garden And Sell

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To survive the recession, thousands of businesses have done the same thing: cut jobs. But one small town factory is trying something different. Instead of cutting employees, it's putting them to work on jobs that were once done by outside contractors.

From member station WIUM in Macomb, Illinois, Rich Egger reports.

RICH EGGER: Bushnell is a small farm community of about 3,300 situated in western Illinois. It's located between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Quad Cities. You won't find any chain stores in its downtown, but there is a small cafe, a furniture store, some law offices and a few small factories.

At the north end sits a big red-brick building. It's the home of Midwest Control Products, a company that makes ball joints, rod ends and other metal products for the ag and trucking industries. And lately, this company has become known for one of its innovations.

Mr. KERRY RHODES (Vice President, Midwest Control Products): We're trying to do something different that is self-sufficient.

EGGER: Kerry Rhodes is the company's vice president.

Mr. RHODES: And we're making it work. And we'd like to see other - more people take an approach like that instead of creating spending programs.

EGGER: Instead of laying off any of its 68 workers, the company set up what it calls an alternative work program.

Employees here now do maintenance work that the company used to contract out. They're cleaning offices, tuckpointing the brick, painting the factory and repairing the machinery.

Mr. RHODES: The fellow that took charge of doing all the ceiling painting, he has a sideline business as a house painter, but he's a welder for us. He was happy to do something different and it's something that he enjoys doing.

EGGER: Well, a lot of factory work is sort of repetitive. So, in a way, this is really giving the employees a chance to sort of break the routine, maybe break the monotony.

Mr. RHODES: They really like that. I mean, they probably express that as much as anything, is that it's fun to do something different. And especially this time of year when the weather's nice, a lot of it they get to go outside.

EGGER: Going outside means working in the company's two-acre garden situated behind its other factory on the edge of town.

Jason Garzee normally works as a press operator here. But on this breezy and cool summer day, he's digging weeds.

Mr. JASON GARZEE: It works for me because I ain't laid off. So as long as we're staying busy and we got jobs and a paycheck, it works for me.

EGGER: Corn and tall sunflowers line one edge of the garden. Small hand-painted wood signs mark the spots where you can find tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and the like. Workers also spend some time selling the produce.

Ms. TRACE HOWELL: Four dollars a dozen. You get a baker's dozen or 40 cents apiece.

Unidentified Woman: Okay.

EGGER: Drill press operator Tracie Howell is at the farmers market in nearby Macomb. Today, she's selling corn from the bed of a silver and black Ford Explorer.

Ms. HOWELL: There you go.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

Ms. HOWELL: Thank you.

EGGER: Howell likes this innovative program because it keeps her working.

Ms. HOWELL: It makes you feel like the company's actually thinking about the employees and not just making a quick buck.

EGGER: By thinking this way about its workers, Midwest Control Products was able to stabilize its finances. In fact, Kerry Rhodes says it's remained profitable every month during the recession.

Rhodes won't worry, though, if orders remain slow during the third quarter. He says there's still a long list of alternative work projects for workers to complete.

For NPR News, I'm Rich Egger in Macomb, Illinois.

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