Manufacturing Odds & Ends

Unemployment rate soars to 7.2 percent
The U.S. economy lost 524,000 jobs in December, putting an alarming exclamation point on the worst year for job losses since World War II, the U.S. Labor Department reported.

Nearly 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, including 1.9 million in just the past four months. The job losses are the most in any calendar year since 1945.

The nation’s unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent, the highest rate in 16 years. The number of people unemployed increased by 632,000 in December to 11.1 million.

"The economy is the jaws of a depression," said Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. "Unemployment increased to 7.2 percent in December; however, factoring in discouraged workers, unemployment is closer to 9.4 percent. Add workers in part-time positions that cannot find full-time employment, and the hidden unemployment rate is 14.5 percent."

Automakers launch new loan program with credit unions
Credit unions in Wisconsin are joining a new program called "Invest in America," in which their members are eligible to receive discounted loans to buy cars from General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

Credit unions across the nation are making as much as $80 billion available for low-cost loans on new cars.

As part of "Invest in America," which will run through March 31, 90 million credit union members nationwide – including 2.2 million in Wisconsin – can gain access to GM’s Credit Union Member Discount Program and Chrysler’s Credit Union Member Cash discounts, as well as low-cost financing on new vehicle purchases.

In the program, GM is offering supplier price discounts, while Chrysler is offering rebates of $500 or $1,000 on eligible vehicles.

The program was piloted in a handful of states but had expanded nationwide to provide more consumers with affordable financing options. Non-members can join a credit union to access the discounts.

"Credit union members can feel good knowing they’re saving money through these offers, but also because they’re helping to reinvigorate the auto industry – a vital part of the U.S. economy," said Brett Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Credit Union League.

Auto lending has traditionally been credit unions’ "bread and butter," Thompson said.

"America’s credit unions have billions to lend. They began in the United States during the Great Depression, and they seem to come into vogue when times are toughest," Thompson said.

Thompson said nonprofit credit unions are financially strong and ready to lend, while other institutions have restricted credit.

"In a down economy, more people are looking at used cars or simply not buying," Thompson said. "So, credit unions – which don’t chase profits – provide an obvious solution to helping people opt for a new vehicle simply because the rates credit unions can offer will give consumers more car for their money."

For more information about the new program, visit

Gonzalez is new CEO of HK Systems
New Berlin-based HK Systems Inc. announced the appointment of Michael Gonzalez to the chief executive officer.

Gonzalez had been serving as president and chief officer of the firm, which is North America’s most experienced automated material handling and supply chain software total solutions provider. The company’s product and service offerings include automated storage and retrieval systems, automated guided vehicles, conveyance, sortation, customer services and supply chain software solutions.

Effective immediately, Gonzalez will oversee the company’s sales and marketing management, manufacturing operations management, engineering management, project management, human resources, accounting services and legal counsel. He also will join the HK Systems board of directors.

Gonzales succeeds John Splude, who will assume the position of executive chairman and will be responsible for the company’s domestic and international acquisition strategy and growing HK Production Logistics, a new subsidiary providing turn-key integrated warehousing and order fulfillment management solutions for organizations experiencing supply chain complexity.

Splude said, "I have known Mike Gonzalez for more than 15 years and since joining HK Systems as president and chief operating officer, he has provided outstanding operational vision and guidance. On behalf of the HK Systems organization, we are excited to have him as our chief executive officer."

"I am excited to lead HK Systems toward our strategic vision of being a world leader in providing integrated supply chain solutions," Gonzalez said. "We have a dedicated team, known for its creativity and execution excellence. With their support, we will continue to design, implement, and support premier industry solutions that enable our customers to achieve extraordinary business results."


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