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Community rallies for Alpena workers after unexpected layoffs, factory closure

Families, friends and companions explore the shops, wineries, restaurants and breweries in downtown Alpena on a hot July afternoon before a thunderstorm rolls in.
Zipporah Abarca
Families and friends explore the shops, wineries, restaurants and breweries in downtown Alpena on a hot July afternoon in 2023.

The Decorative Panels International company laid off more than 150 employees Feb. 22, after shuttering its factory in Alpena seemingly overnight.

According to reporting from the Alpena News, DPI failed to provide advanced notice for its workers before closing down the factory.

The community is now rallying to support impacted workers. Local banks, credit unions and small businesses are coming up with ways to offer financial help to families affected by layoffs.

"I've seen just such an outpouring in the community, from real estate agents to small businesses, restaurants, Michigan Works, everyone," said Rachel Smolinski, the Alpena city manager. "So many different organizations reaching out to say, 'hey, how can I help?'"

Nick Montie, CEO of the Wolverine State Credit Union in Alpena, said they're now offering a relief program to former employees.

"We're offering no fees, skip-the-pays, basically taking the payments that they'd have the next this month, next month and moving them up to the end of the loan," Montie said. "We're also offering a 0% 60-day start on basically an income replacement loan."

Montie said the program is intended to supplement a family's income in the lag time between their last paycheck and unemployment benefits.

He also recommends impacted workers check with their bank or credit union for free financial planning services for more support.

The DPI factory has been a staple in Alpena's economy for nearly 70 years and has changed multiple hands over its lifespan.

Adam Pol, the president of the Alpena Chamber of Commerce, said the factory's closure will be a considerable loss to the community, but local businesses are now looking to possibly add staff from a new pool of workers.

"I have talked to some members that are actively going to be looking to add to their employment," Pol told WCMU. "There is definitely concern and also opportunity for other employers to potentially add well qualified talent."

State Representative Cam Cavitt, a Republican from Cheboygan who represents northeast Michigan, encouraged those impacted by the layoffs to reach out to his office for assistance.

"People are waking up to difficult news this morning," Cavitt said in a statement released Thursday. "Please know that you do not have to go through this alone. There is a whole community behind you. We’re ready to help."

The plant's union president told the Alpena News he has started bargaining discussions with DPI. The company said it faced "insurmountable financial challenges," and company leaders say they've exhausted all other options.

More information on the DPI closure and programs to help former DPI workers can be found on theCity of Alpena's website.

Scott Rechlin is a newsroom intern covering northeast Lower Michigan and the eastern Upper Peninsula for WCMU.
Rick Brewer has been news director at WCMU since February 2024.
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