Cars drive by a nondescript strip mall on the westside of Indianapolis. The Carrier plant sits just on the other side of the intersection.
“This was a popular spot. Four years ago, this parking lot would be fully packed. These little small businesses are hurting because of corporate greed,” said Duane Oreskovic.
He worked for the air conditioner and heating company for about five years. He and other Carrier workers would frequently come to this strip mall to pick up lunch or grab a cup of coffee, but after he and hundreds of others were laid off, some of the businesses have closed or changed owners.
Oreskovic points to a space where a barbershop used to be.
“The blue sign, that's been three different owners,” he said, and then looked at what used to be Sully’s Bar & Grill. “Westside pub. That's three different owners right there since four years ago.”
In 2016, President Donald Trump campaigned on promises to save U.S. manufacturing jobs from leaving the country, including hundreds at the Indianapolis Carrier plant. Despite Trump’s deal to save some of those jobs, Carrier and many other companies sent jobs to Mexico anyway. The effect of those promises have left a lasting mark on the community.
Carrier Offshoring Plan Hits National Headlines
Former union president Chuck Jones remembers when he got the call in February 2016 telling him Carrier planned to close the plant and move the jobs to Mexico. He said he didn’t believe it at first.
“If I had to make a list of in order, which ones I think would be moving out of this country, Carrier would have been towards the bottom,” said Jones.
The Indianapolis plant made national headlines when then president-elect Trump made a deal with the company to keep jobs from going to Mexico. Hundreds of jobs still left.
Jones now serves as Wayne Township trustee after retiring in 2017 from Rexnord – a plant just down the street from Carrier that also offshored jobs. He sees his job similar to what he did as a union president, helping people.
On a desk in his office, Jones has a framed copy of two tweets Trump sent criticizing Jones for his harsh remarks about the president and the Carrier deal.
“Do I wish I wouldn't have said that? No, I don't. I stand behind everything I said. Because Trump's ego would not allow him to say, ‘Hey, I got involved, I saved part of the jobs, I wasn't able to save all of ‘em,’” said Jones. “So he left out of there, you know, leaving the people to believe all the jobs were gonna stay there. That's a hell of a way to treat people.”
Jones said he is thankful Trump was able to save some jobs, though he said he wasn’t sold on Trump four years ago and certainly isn’t now.
“Trump gets in on promises that he didn't keep,” said Jones. “If he gets another four years well, what’s the hell he done in the four he's been in? And you know, I haven't seen any results.”
Oreskovic, who lost his job, doesn’t blame Trump for it. He said he believes the president did what he could.
While Trump has made promises to save manufacturing jobs, Ball State economist Michael Hicks says the president’s trade battles and other policies have done the opposite.
“With the beginning of the trade war, about midway through 2018, and then up until the start of the pandemic, Indiana had lost about 5,800 factory jobs,” said Hicks.
In fact, 2019 was the first time since the Great Recession that Indiana lost more manufacturing jobs than it gained. For those in the manufacturing industry, the loss of jobs is an ongoing challenge going back decades.
Hicks said, last year, the Midwest started going into a manufacturing recession, but Trump’s trade wars have only further hurt the industry.
“Indiana, right now, is sort of leading the Midwest in its Trade Adjustment Applications. Those are companies that are saying they're shipping production overseas, the overall effect of that tends to be the closure of an entire plant,” he said.
For a state that elected officials tout as leading the country in the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs, this could be concerning not only to workers but also communities that rely on those jobs.
“There's nothing wrong with manufacturing jobs, except that they don't offer a very stable community future,” said Hicks. “And that really is the way policymakers need to view them as they're welcomed, but they're not likely to be provided a stable employment base for any community in America going into the midst of the 21st century.”
In a global economy, Hicks said companies are going to look for ways to keep costs down and stay competitive. That’s the reason Carrier cited for moving its jobs to Mexico.
“Otherwise, the prices of these products would skyrocket. So if we were to make a cell phone in the United States alone, it would cost $5,000 or $6,000 per phone, we wouldn't have cell phones, and it would do very little in the long run to boost American employment prospects,” said Hicks.
Not A Matter Of If, But When, Jobs Leave
Now, with many plants in Indiana and across the country sending jobs overseas, Jones doesn’t see stability in the industry like he once did.
“Our logic. And I think most people's logic that worked in manufacturing was if a person or people did a good job producing a good quality product, and a company was profitable, that they'd stay here, and then people would have jobs,” said Jones.
After almost 50 years in manufacturing, Jones said he discourages people from getting into the industry.
“Well I discourage anybody from getting into manufacturing now. I'd encourage them to either get involved with a trade, you know, it could be, electrician or various things,” said Jones. “But you have to learn a trade, because manufacturing, I think is going to be a dinosaur unless something's done in Washington D.C. to put limitations on these jobs leaving the country.”
Since his layoff, Oreskovic has been taking classes and received his apartment maintenance certificate. He’s now in the process to become a certified home inspector, while working temp jobs and making significantly less.
“If you get a job, unfortunately, for under $15 an hour you got to take, you gotta make a living,” said Oreskovic. “It's a hard living. Eat ramen noodles. Put it to you like that, it's ramen noodles all night.”
Since the announced layoffs from 2016, Carrier added about 120 positions at the Indiana plant in 2018 and separated from its parent company United Technologies earlier this year.
While things might be busy at the plant Oreskovic once worked at, he said even for workers at long-established companies like Carrier, who’s to say those jobs will be here tomorrow.
“So the collective fears like you know, everyone's going down to Mexico for cheaper wages,” said Oreskovic. “And when you get this new job, it's like are you guys gonna go somewhere or not gonna go somewhere. So it’s collective fear not just here in Indiana, but for the nation.”