Sparta Residents Offer Hope to Herrin after Plant Closing

Sparta Residents Offer Hope to Herrin after Plant Closing Announcement
By: Carly O'Keefe

Sparta, IL - The Illinois ready response team is doing what it can to help 1000 employees of Herrin's Maytag plant that will be out of a job at the end of the year. The team's trying to arrange schooling and re-training for the one-thousand people who'll be out of work.

In addition to the jobs, the closure will also take several million dollars away from the Herrin and Williamson County's economy.

The small town of Sparta is no stranger to economic loss. The town lost its biggest business back in 1992. The Spartan International Printing Company closed its doors laying off over 800 workers. That wasn't the only hit Sparta took to its economy around that time. Some of mines in that area closed too, adding insult to injury.

"Years ago, Sparta was known as the printing capital of the world," said Chamber of Commerce member and business man Ron Stork.

As World Color Press, the company employed 1700 people. When it changed hands becoming the Spartan International Printing Company, it employed 800, until 1992.

"As the industry changed, they changed directions and we ended up with a big empty building," said Stork.

A big empty building wasn't all that was left behind. Eight-hundred people were left out of work.

"I was desperately afraid of not being able to find a job," said former Spartan International Printing employee Brenda Coop.

That desperation gave out-of-work employees like Coop a reason to go back to school, or seek training in another field.

"I had to go back at 38 and get my degree, so four years later I started teaching," said Coop.

Now Coop is a computer applications teacher at Chester High School. She like many others has stories of how life changed drastically when Spartan Printing closed its doors.

"I just think the people who live in Sparta are very versatile and they've shown just how versatile they are, because they didn't get down, they found something else they could do," said Coop.

"You take your hits, and you kind of move on, and Sparta's done an excellent job of doing that. We've always maintained a forward motion, some days it hasn't been easy," said Stork.

Chamber of Commerce and city officials now focus on maintaining Sparta's existing businesses while also working to create new business in town.

"The streets of downtown were empty, now we have most of our buildings filled again. And we've kind of weathered the storm," said Stork.

"You have to dig down and pull yourself up from your bootstraps and say, there is something else that's out there for me, and I know I can do it," said Coop.

The building left vacant by Spartan Printing's closure now houses two businesses: the Gilster Mary Lee Company and Spartan Light Metals. Spartan Light Metals employs 600 people.

Spartans do offer some words of encouragement to the people of Herrin-- they say stick together and move forward in a united effort.

"The best encouragement I can give them is to hold their head up and continue to work at it, they'll survive and they'll do well, it's going to be hard, but they're good hard working people in Herrin," said Stork.