"As Goes Janesville" is the tale of one city - a city whose economy is devastated by the closing of its century-old GM plant in 2008, under the G.W. Bush administration. The film documents the struggle of Janesville, Wis., to re-invent itself.
Many of the problems to be resolved were the same problems dividing the Wisconsin government: cuts to education, cuts to Medicaid and veterans benefits, unemployment and the stripping of union rights.
There are many facets to this tale. There is the story of GM workers, Gayle Listenbee and Angie Hodges, who leave behind their families to transfer to another GM plant; Cindy Deegan, who loses her GM job, is fighting breast cancer and is fearful of losing her unemployment and health benefits before she is trained for another job; Mary Willmer-Sheedy, who co-chairs a private economic development dedicated to bring new businesses to Janesville; and State Senator Tim Cullen, a Democrat in a Republican-dominated government.
Mary Willmer-Sheedy is convinced that the city's investment in a new, state-of-the-art hospital will provide employment and become a magnet that draws research and manufacturing companies to Janesville. Encouraged by Gov. Scott Walker, she urges the city to give $9,000,000 in tax breaks to Shine Medical, a high-technology company evaluating the idea of building in Janesville, the county seat of Rock County located in southern Wisconsin.
On the other hand, state Sen. Cullen is reluctant to back a bill giving tax breaks to new companies without language that protects public investment. The bill must specify that in order to receive the tax break, corporations must fulfill the purpose for which they were granted.
The Janesville City Council faces the hard realities of cutting the budget while Wisconsin fights its own battles with this state vs. unions, and the recall election of Gov. Walker. Cullen, a moderate Democrat, believing people in the public trust have an obligation to resolve issues, announces his decision to run against Gov. Walker. Later, Cullen withdraws as he is unable to raise the $2,000,000 to compete with the Walker war chest.
The important message of this film is not the political wrangling, but the approach the City Council and Economic Development Council embraced to save the city. It took courage to appropriate money for the new hospital; it took courage to face the reality that new jobs would probably pay 18% less than GM. It took resourcefulness to ask citizens to blog only about the good things happening in Janesville. Think positive was the message. As Cullen expressed it, "Angry people do not solve problems."
"As Goes Janesville," a documentary by Brad Lichtenstein, should spark a lively discussion following the free movie screening Oct. 17. Come, participate and share ideas as to how Grand Junction might be reinvented.