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Published: Saturday, 10/6/2001

'90s a decade of changes for area

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Press operator Vicky Gonzalez spent 55 hours a week making transmission parts at General Motors Corp.'s Toledo Powertrain plant two years ago.

The Tecumseh, Mich., resident could have worked more overtime throughout most of the 1990s and further boosted her income. By a lot.

“You could walk out of here with $1,000 a week if you wanted to - clear,” recalled Ms. Gonzalez, a 26-year GM veteran who has worked at the 4,000-employee Alexis Road plant since 1988.

People who worked in Lucas County's auto-part, Jeep, boat, and aerospace plants got huge pay boosts in the 1990s. Factory workers, their managers, and other plant employees on average started the decade making about $38,300 a year and then pulled in nearly $65,000 annually before the start of the millennium, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Lucas County's businesses, in fact, underwent a variety of changes in the 1990s, the federal figures show. The records detail the type and number of businesses in every county nationwide and include employment and annual payroll figures. The most recent year available is 1999.

High profit-sharing bonuses and a slew of overtime from automakers such as DaimlerChrysler AG, whose Toledo Jeep Assembly plant was the county's largest manufacturing employer in the 1990s, made the difference in compensation in a tight labor market for so-called “transportation equipment” employees, said David Littmann, chief economist for Comerica Bank in Detroit.

In 1999, for example, Toledo Jeep's nearly 5,000 hourly employees received average profit-sharing bonuses of $6,800 to $7,300 before taxes. Ford Motor Co.'s 700 hourly workers at a Maumee stamping plant received $6,100 on average, and GM's got $200 each.

The amount of bonuses and overtime created some volatility in wages for those mostly auto-related employees in the 1990s. They made more on average in 1995 at $58,230, for example, than they did in 1998, although that number still paled compared with 1999's $64,933 average. The latter figure is up more than $11,000, or roughly 20 percent, from the year before.

“Ninety-nine, of course, was a tremendous bonus year,” said Mr. Littmann, adding, “You essentially couldn't get any qualified workers, so they did for sure have to work the overtime hours.”

As pay for Lucas County's mostly auto-related employees was on the rise, transportation equipment plants increased from 26 to 32 in the decade and employment went from 11,794 to 12,450.

Yet the county's overall manufacturing employment dropped from 39,424 in 1990 to 30,757 in 1999, and the number of manufacturing plants plunged from 715 in 1990 to 619 by decade's end.

Some factories moved or closed down operations, including Vega Industries, a residential window and patio door manufacturer in Maumee.

Plus, fewer manufacturing employees were needed as companies moved some jobs overseas and increased productivity - and, as a result, strengthened the area's manufacturing base, said James Coons, chief economist for Huntington National Bank in Columbus.

“The [factories] that remain are able to perform as much or more with fewer employees,” he said. “It mirrors what's going on across Ohio and throughout the country.”

Another tidbit culled from the government statistics is that the number of Lucas County hotels and restaurants rose from 921 in 1990 to 1,001 in 1998, but the number took a slight dive at decade's end to 989.

Even though restaurants seem to be opening constantly in Lucas County, that drop isn't surprising to Vic Yeandel, vice president of marketing for Indianapolis-based Steak 'n' Shake, which opened two Toledo restaurants in 1999.

Nationwide, a number of family-style restaurants closed in the 1990s after the Chili's Grill & Bars of the world moved into their markets, Mr. Yeandel said. They tried offering a wide range of foods but failed to attract enough customers, he said.

In addition, Mr. Yeandel said, small independent restaurants are prone to failure.

Downtown Toledo alone had a number of restaurant closures in 1999, including Sadie's Bakeshop on Adams Street, Martha's Madcaps caf on Jackson Street, and Linck's Too Cafeteria in the basement of the National City Bank Building. A longtime Toledo fixture, Linck's was serving 165 to 190 people a day shortly before its closure, down from 600.

Still, other restaurants, including Steak 'n' Shake, filled some gaps.

The 1990s, according to the statistics, wrought a number of other changes for Lucas County businesses:

  • Average overall annual pay for workers was $30,933 in 1999, up 39 percent from 1990.

  • Total employment grew nearly 15,000 to 216,082 at the end of the decade.

  • The number of businesses overall remained relatively steady, ending the decade at 11,225.

  • Average pay for construction workers jumped to $41,183 by the end of the decade, up 43 percent.

  • Average pay for manufacturing employees jumped to $49,327 in 1999, up 36 percent.

  • Health-care employment jumped from 29,552 in 1990 to 40,165 in 1999. And the number of health-care businesses rose from 952 to 1,176.

    More health-care services are required as residents become more affluent and can afford them, said Mr. Coons, the economist. Also, some insurance plans are set up so people pay a fixed amount for a level of services, and they visit doctors more often, he said.

    “This is really demand-driven,” Mr. Coons said.

    Lucas County's largest northwest Ohio neighbors, Wood and Fulton counties, had some changes among their businesses too, the census figures show.

    Businesses in Wood County increased from 2,379 in 1990 to 2,643 by decade's end. Employment in the 1990s went from 38,468 people to 46,916. And average pay for all employees went from $20,879 in 1990 to $30,302.

    In Fulton County, the number of businesses rose by 96 to 1,096 in the 1990s. Employment for the decade went from 14,454 to 19,298, and average pay increased from $19,894 to $27,605.

    Statistics for the millennium's start are likely to continue to paint a different picture for Lucas County.

    For many manufacturers, especially those in the auto industry, the economic slowdown that started last year has dented local workforces and payrolls. Toledo Jeep, for example, stopped production of the Cherokee this summer earlier than anticipated to make way for the all-new Liberty and scaled back Wrangler output, eliminating about 1,770 hourly and salaried jobs.

    At GM Powertrain, now Lucas County's largest manufacturing employer, layoffs have been averted but overtime was slashed. Many GM Powertrain workers depended on overtime in the 1990s, and the extra hours are starting to come back.

    Overtime was a necessity for Toledoan Irene Schough, who works on the valve body line and continues to get overtime there. That money was needed to help put a son through medical school and a daughter through college, she said.

    “I used to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, about,” said Ms. Schough, a 36-year GM veteran who has been at Toledo Powertrain since 1988. “At the time, I really had to do that.”

    Ms. Gonzalez, who can spend more time at work now that her two children are grown, and others at the plant continue to long for overtime.

    “Now that I can work it, it's about gone,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “Everybody fights for that hour. ...

    “There's been a big change from the '90s until the 2000s.”



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