Madison — especially its North and East sides — won’t be the same without Oscar Mayer.
Neither will the lives of some 1,000 employees, most of whom are losing their jobs.
The company’s sad announcement Wednesday that its headquarters and plant will close delivered a heavy if not surprising blow to workers and their families. Many said they saw it coming. The aging factory and offices, which once employed 4,000, have been shaving jobs for years.
The pain to those people most affected, including local businesses that cater to the plant and its workforce, can’t be minimized. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin estimated the impact at “hundreds of millions of dollars” on the area’s economy.
The only consolations may be that Madison has a low unemployment rate, and the company plans to phase out the plant over more than a year. So workers will have some time to prepare. They’ll get severance benefits and help finding new jobs, a company spokesman said. The mayor pledged to work with state officials to help displaced workers retrain.
But this loss, more than others in recent years, really hurts.
Oscar Mayer, famous for manufacturing hot dogs and lunch meat, has been a fixture here for nearly a century, giving to countless community causes. Along with its employees, it gave more than $500,000 to the United Way of Dane County last year, for example. And many of its workers serve as an army of community volunteers.
Madison needs more company headquarters, not fewer, because of the prosperity and generosity they so often provide.
If only Kraft Heinz, the recently merged parent company of Oscar Mayer, had seen the value of consolidating its manufacturing and corporate operations here, rather than in Iowa, Missouri or Chicago, where many of Madison’s jobs are apparently going. Local officials say they’ll try to talk the giant corporation out of its decision, but hope is thin.
The plant closing will leave a big hole on the North and East sides. The city should start planning now for ways to remake the large site so its shuttered factory and large surface parking lots don’t sit idle for long.
Madison loved being associated with Oscar Mayer, a pop culture icon. Everyone seemed to love its classic hot dogs. And the company’s fun bologna jingle and goofy Wienermobile complemented Madison’s quirky spirit.
When the State Journal last year compiled the 100 objects that define Madison, the Wienermobile easily made the list. Oscar Mayer’s 27-foot vehicle shaped like a wiener is a “pure Madison trademark,” much like the colorful, sunburst-patterned chairs of the Union Terrace, this newspaper reported.
And now it’s leaving.
The smell of Oscar Mayer meat wafting in the air near the plant may have bothered some neighbors in the past, but now it will be badly missed.
Oscar Mayer shutting down in Madison is the end of an era. It’s another hit to traditional manufacturing in a city that’s rapidly going high-tech. It hurts our city’s psyche as much as its heart.