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Madison Wants to Help Keep Laid Off Toys R Us Workers in the City

Mother and daughter

Originally published by WKOW.com on March 17, 2018

By David Johnson

MADISON (WKOW) — Tens of thousands of employees are wondering what to do next after Toys R Us announced a shutdown of its U.S. stores.

The company filed court documents Thursday to close or sell all of its domestic stores. That also includes a distribution center.

A former employee said the end of a longtime business could be tough on a lot of workers.

“That hurts. It really does. That really was a lot of people’s futures. A lot of people had been there 20 plus years,” Marie Detlefsen, a former Toys R Us employee.

The closure means about 31,000 employees will be out of a job, including more than 300 in Wisconsin. Nine Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores in the state will close on May 14. More than 60 people will be let go.

“There’s been rumblings about it for a while,” said Mark Greene, director of income insurance program SafetyNet and chair of the Madison Economic Development Committee.

This isn’t the only big box store that has closed recently in our area. Sam’s Club and Gander Mountain have also closed.

The city of Madison wants to try to keep those workers here rather than see them go elsewhere for work.

“What we’re trying to do is really look at a strategy going forward.” Greene said.

The committee is developing a strategy to not only attract businesses, but keep the ones that are already here.

“I think the city has seen that the economy is changing. We were a government town 20 or 30 years ago. Now we’re private-sector driven, more tech driven. So the city is looking at strategies to go into companies to find out more about, ‘Why are you here? What are the issues you run into?’”

“Part of the strategy that we’ve developed is a business assistance team. It’s a single point of contact for businesses or people that are looking to start businesses can call to see what they can do about different issues that they run into, like zoning and signage,” he said.

Partnerships with organizations like Madison Regional Economic Partnership, or MadREP, play a big role in the city’s plan.

“They go talk to these companies, see if facilities meet their needs. Just the nature of what companies needs are changing. Oscar Meyer is a perfect example. They don’t need a seven story building. That’s inefficient. So the city, I think, is looking proactively to say, ‘What are some of these businesses need?’” Greene said.

Greene said Madison already has a strong workforce.

“The State Workforce Development Board, Madison College. All those groups are really focused on figuring out who the talent is and than retraining them, seeing where they fit inside the talent pool. Because there are a lot of companies that are looking to hire,” Greene said. “I think Madison is a very attractive city for any business. We have a highly educated workforce. It’s a great place to live. There’s a lot of benefits for a company to relocate in Madison.”

Greene said in the coming weeks, the Madison Economic Development Committee will be working on a Toys R Us-specific plan throughout south central Wisconsin to help people losing their job due to the store closures.