Making Change: Weathering the Loss of a Major Employer

It's 5:00 and the first shift workers are streaming out of the May Credit Services Center in Sheffield Township, just south of Lorain. Rebecca Romot kisses her mother goodbye and heads to her car. It was actually her mom who helped Rebecca get a job here in 1999. The huge building, which sits to the rear of a shopping plaza, is an old May Company department store that closed over 13 years ago when it became a national credit processing center for the May Company chain.

Rebecca Romot: It's funny. We still have stories every now and then of little old ladies who come in with coupons, wanting to know why this isn't the store that they remember. They don't realize it's an office, and not a store like it used to be.

A store that dated back to 1953, but had to close due to competition from nearby interstates that took area residents to newer, distant shopping malls.

Rebecca Romot: I live about ten minutes from here, just down the road, which made it real convenient as a workplace. It's actually one of the few places left that paid well in the area. A lot of people here just had a high school diploma. They could get a nice job, it would pay well, and they could move up without a college degree.

Rebecca says she and her husband Ira have joked that the place is like a white collar factory. And that's actually a pretty good comparison because, back 40 years ago, someone from Lorain could get a decent job at American Shipbuilding or the steel mill or the Ford plant, without even so much as a high school diploma. But then, the shipyards left town, both the Ford factory and the steel mill were drastically downsized, and now, as of today, the May Credit Services Center is a thing of the past. The Federated Department Store chain which bought May Company last year has just closed this facility and will consolidate its credit operations in Cincinnati, taking 760 jobs with it.

Rebecca Romot: When Federated purchased us, I wasn't surprised that they were going to close us, because I knew they had a center in Cincinnati. But, for a lot of people, this blew them away. They were completely stunned by the news.

Soon after the announcement was made, this past fall, Rebecca started looking for another job. She finally found one at a Westlake call center about a month ago. That's where she's heading right now to work an additional five hours. But first, she's going to rendezvous with her husband for a few minutes at a local bagel shop.

Ira was laid off from a Lorain-area plastics factory two years ago, so he's being a "house-husband," while looking for a new job. They have to grab fleeting moments when they can to catch up.

Ira Romot: It's really become that meeting place in the middle of the day that, we can spend a few minutes together. And then, I try and pick her up at night at 11:30, so I can spend a half hour with her before she comes home and collapses. I do all the laundry, all the cooking, and we've gotten really familiar with our crock pot, rice and beans.

Rebecca Romot: [laughs] We'd better go.

And they hustle back out to their car to get her to the call center job by 6:30.

Rebecca says Federated has brought in an outplacement firm to help the displaced workers get back into the job market. They are being taught how to update their resumes, and in many cases, create a resume from scratch. She says a lot of people are making the most out of the bad news. But, she thinks many are in denial.

Rebecca Romot: A lot of people have expressed a desire to take a vacation, to spend the summer with their kids, to take a break, basically. A lot of people have been working, since they've been out of school. They've been working all their adult lives. So, the desire to do something that's not work-related is pretty strong. But, with the economy the way it is, I don't know if that's the safest thing to do.

The Service Center's Human Resources director says there's no reliable way to determine how many employees have found new jobs, but adds that she hears success stories every day.

Rebecca Romot: It's so weird being new, after being there for six years. It's not different from what I've been doing. I'm pretty adaptable, but I can only imagine how some people are going to feel, having a new job, in a new place, for the first time in 12 years.

And Rebecca heads off to job number two. Actually, her only job now. Both Rebecca and Ira are planning to go back to school. It's just a matter of finding the time and the money to do it. And both of those are in short supply, these days.
David C. Barnett, 90.3.

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