News that Chicago based US Gypsum Corporation will close plant in Empire, has many concerned about a ripple effect on the local economy. The company is the largest employer in the area but Plant Manager Mike Spilhman says they are a victim of the housing bust. The manufacturing plant in Empire makes wallboard, a product that is less in demand as building projects across the US go dormant.
92 employees were notified Thursday the plant would shut down operations on January 31st. Spilhman says housing benefits will remain in place after the closure in hopes of reducing the impact on families with school aged children. “One of the severance benefits employees will be receiving is they’ll be able to live rent free in company housing until the end of the school year, after operations shut down.” he said.
This is the latest blow to a community that has lost much this year. Tuesday, Gerlach's medical clinic was closed. Just a few months earlier budget cuts prompted Washoe County to reduce services at the Senior Center. Now many fear the schools will close, as families once employed by USG move away.
Gerlach has a number of seniors already living on a fixed income, who will not directly be impacted by the closure. Many who use to be employed by the plant say the closure is sad, but it's not enough to make them leave. “I’ve been here this long, and I suppose I’m going to stay until the end.” says lifelong resident Barbara Conley. Bruno Selmi, owner of the town's only casino says he's seen a lot of changes over the years and he's not worried. “This town was here before USG.” he says. Mike Spilhman say the closure is indefinite, and if building booms again United States Gypsum Corp. hopes to reopen the plant and the town of Empire.