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Economy & Business

Waukesha Mayor Calls Political Partners About GE's Decision to Move Jobs to Canada

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly wonders if he or other elected leaders can persuade General Electric to change its mind about moving a century-old engine manufacturing plant and its 350 jobs to Canada.

The company says it will leave Waukesha because Congress has not re-authorized the U.S. Export-Import Bank. It helped companies sell products overseas. Conservative Republicans in the House let the bank's charter expire in July because they view the loans it makes as corporate welfare. Canada still has such an agency.

Reilly says, among the phone calls he has made seeking assistance or advice are Wisconsin Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin - she has voted in favor of re-authorizing the bank, and Gov. Walker - he called for eliminating the bank, during his months on the presidential campaign trail.

"It (the Export-Import Bank issue) wasn't something that was high on my radar for the simple reason that it is pretty complex, the whole situation of who's right on it, is not easy to figure it out. I didn't imagine that it would be something that would hit Waukesha square in the jaw," Reilly says.

Reilly says the 350 jobs that would be lost to Waukesha are very good jobs, both in terms of pay and benefits. He says they are union positions. Yet the mayor is confident the workers would eventually land on their feet, even if the jobs move to Canada. He says the two-year lead time GE has given workers regarding the move also works to their advantage.

"There are a lot of manufacturing jobs available in the Waukesha County area - I should say southeastern Wisconsin. manufacturers are looking for skilled workers," Reilly says.

He says he laments, just as much, the fact that his city could lose what was formerly Waukesha Engine, a manufacturing operation known world-wide, for generations.

"This is a company with a global presence that made Waukesha be known throughout the world...we won't have that as part of our history and our presence as it is right now," Reilly says.

Reilly says if the job cannot be kept in Waukesha, then it will be local officials' responsibility to help ease the pain and provide avenues to new employment.