VIROQUA (Wis.) — NCR in announced Thursday morning that it would be ending production at its Viroqua label plant by March 31.

Alan Ulman, who heads up NCR’s corporate media relations, said there are 81 people employed at the Viroqua plant.

NCR, which was founded as the National Cash Register Company in 1884, is based in Dayton, Ohio, and manufactures and provides supplies for banking ATMs, retail checkout machines, and both airline and health care self-service check-in kiosks.

Ulman said the move to close the Viroqua plant was being done as part of a global strategy to improve the company’s productivity, efficiency and cost structure.

He said that the products produced in Viroqua will be manufactured at NCR’s Morristown, Tenn., plant. Ulman said that Viroqua employees will be eligible to apply for an undetermined number of new jobs being created at that plant.

“We are sensitive of the negative impact that this decision has on the Viroqua employees,” Ulman said. “We appreciate their service, are providing severance packages to them, and are coordinating company and government resources to help transition to new jobs.”

NCR opened its Viroqua manufacturing facility in 1968. The company has a total of 23,200 employees globally.

Employees ponder future

Some of the employees of Viroqua’s NCR plant gathered at the Viking Inn in downtown Viroqua to discuss the closing.

Travis Unseth, 37, who has worked for eight years at the plant as a press operator, said employees were told of an impending announcement on Wednesday and it came first thing Thursday morning.

"I tell you what — nobody knows what they’re going to do," Unseth said. "We’re going through this economy and things are bad, yet a group of us are getting together, reminiscing and telling stories about the past. We were told we’ve got 60 days left and we were told we had today off, but we’re supposed to work (Friday)."

Mark Nevismal, of Viroqua, who has worked at the plant for 32 years, said the announcement was simply, "a sad thing."

"We have a lot of married couples who work at the plant, so both of them are losing their jobs," Nevismal said. "It’s a bad situation and I don’t think that today we really realize it. It will set in more tomorrow when we go back to work."

Unseth said a human resources specialist from NCR is to visit the Viroqua plant from Wednesday through Friday of next week. He said the details of how people will eventually leave their jobs will be given then. He said some employees may leave the plant sooner than others. He said some of his co-workers have talked about moving to Tennessee.

"The only thing set in stone is the Viroqua plant is closing and everybody, from the plant manager down to the lowest ranking employee, is losing their jobs," Unseth said.

Unseth, who has a wife and two children, said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do in the future. He said the prospects of moving to Tennessee are difficult to fathom, "when everybody has their families, homes and roots here."

Unseth said he harbored no bad feelings toward NCR over the move.

"I was glad to hear the jobs stayed in the United States instead of going overseas or to Mexico," he said. "That made a difference for me."

Community, business leaders react to NCR plant closing

Calling NCR a “backbone of the city,” Viroqua Mayor Larry Fanta said the announcement early Thursday morning that the company’s Viroqua plant was closing was shocking.

NCR isn’t the city’s biggest employer, but it has been a stalwart manufacturer in Viroqua’s Industrial Park. The city has approximately 4,400 citizens.

“Obviously this is a tremendous blow — for the people who’ve worked there for a number of years and for the city in general,” Fanta said. “There’s probably not a person who lives in the city who doesn’t know somebody who works at NCR, or actually has a member of the family, a cousin, or some relative, working at the plant.”

Rebecca Eby, executive director of the Viroqua Partners, said the city’s business group would be convening an emergency meeting of its economic restructuring committee.

“We are working to get a rapid response meeting set up, working with the state’s department of Workforce Connections,” Eby said. “A meeting like this would help give information to employees concerning what they need to know.”

Eby said that the Partners had contacted Third District Congressman Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) about the situation.

The Vernon Economic Development Association, based in Viroqua, would work with groups like the Partners and others to help respond to the plant closing, VEDA Executive Director Susan Noble said.

“This will have a drastic impact to the economy here,” Noble said. “Obviously the first thing we think is, ‘Yes, this is devastating,’ but then we have to move on to thinking about what we can do to help people turn this into an opportunity.”

Noble said that VEDA has resources for people interested in starting a small business.

“Before we get to that point, we’ll do whatever we can to work with the rapid response,” Noble said.

In 2004, the Viroqua NCR plant trimmed 16 full-time jobs. Before that round of layoffs, the plant had 95 employees.

“The NCR plant has been around so long, people think something like that will always be here,” Fanta said. “An announcement like this is a reality check that the bad economic news that we’ve heard from other places around the country can happen here.”

Eby said information on the rapid response meeting would be made public as soon as possible.

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