For more than 60 years, the Procter & Gamble Iowa City Beauty Care Site has been a vital part of our local economy. On Feb. 7, Procter & Gamble shared with the local community its decision to move the hair care and body wash production lines from Iowa City to its new West Virginia location in 2020.
Make no mistake; the ramifications will stretch far beyond the estimated 500 positions that will be lost. Procter & Gamble and its various supply chain companies have been some of our area’s best employers. They offer strong wage and benefit packages and have been great corporate citizens by investing back into the community and supporting numerous nonprofit agencies.
The challenges that lie ahead are numerous, but we are confident the Iowa City community will come together to support the affected employees and ensure the remaining Procter & Gamble operations not only are maintained, but can grow and thrive.
One thing needs to be made crystal clear — the decision is not a reflection on the quality of our local workforce or our supportive business climate. Procter & Gamble made this decision, and numerous similar decisions affecting plants across the United States, based strictly on transportation and distribution efficiencies for water-based products.
This decision is all about geography — reducing Procter & Gamble’s expenses and carbon footprint by locating the production of these heavy products proximate to population centers. This decision doesn’t reflect any amount of public assistance, financial incentives or lack thereof.
In fact, as Procter & Gamble internally was making plans to move the beauty care lines from Iowa City, the company was aggressively investing more than $100 million in capital and hiring 150 new employees the past two years to expand its oral care operations, all without ever requesting any public assistance. The quality of our local workforce was a significant factor in the decision to initiate production of its electric tooth brush in Iowa City. Procter & Gamble communicated clearly to us in the past week that the oral care operations are firmly entrenched here in Iowa City, and they see continued growth in employment and capital investment in the near future.
With Procter & Gamble’s decision made, where do we as a community go from here?
In 2020, we know that about 500 positions will be lost. We need to work with Procter & Gamble and its Iowa City employees and their respective labor unions to ensure that every employee has a successful transition plan. We need to take a holistic approach and not focus simply on the next employment opportunity. Rather, we must ask what additional services will these employees and their families need.
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Working with local organizations such as the United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties and the strong, nonprofit community will be critical. Solutions will range from continued employment with Procter & Gamble in another capacity to targeted skills training for new employment, or entrepreneurial support for employees who might want to start their own business.
We know we have outstanding partners, including Kirkwood Community College, the University of Iowa, Iowa Workforce Development, and local trade unions. All are eager to help be a part of the solution.
We must work with Procter & Gamble leadership to support the continued grow the oral care operations and explore every possible opportunity to bring new product lines to the Iowa City plant. We must actively identify and aggressively market to new companies who would stand to benefit from the existing supply chain infrastructure and our local assets.
This is unfortunate news, to be sure. There is no sugarcoating this situation. However, the Iowa City area still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, and there are vibrant, growing companies all over our region already seeking to recruit the talented people affected by this news. There will be effects and unintended consequences, and the only way to lessen the negative aspects of this news is to continue to work together as a community to support each other and continue to remind people why the Iowa City region is so special. The prevailing mindset of this area is one of strength, support and a faith that the future will be better for our children through our collective effort on a daily basis. To those families who are affected by this news, please know you are not alone. You are part of a community, and one of our strengths is that we pull together in times of need. It is true we have some time to prepare, but we will not wait to act. It is time for our strength to shine.
• James Throgmorton is the mayor of Iowa City. Geoff Fruin is Iowa City’s city manager. Mark Nolte is president of the Iowa City Area Development Group. Kim Casko is president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. Katie Knight is president and CEO of the United Way of Johnson and Washington counties.