WPS Health Insurance has announced hundreds of layoffs in Wisconsin, almost half of them in the Wausau area. Local officials are hoping there's a silver lining for the central Wisconsin economy.
WPS is laying off more than 450 people statewide: 250 in Madison and Monona, and about 200 in Wausau, due to the loss of two major federal contracts. Dave Eckmann of Marathon County Development Corporation (MCDEVCO), the economic development arm of the Wausau chamber, says the news is something local officials have been expecting for months. "Those layoffs come due to the loss of a contract that WPS had. It's something that we knew was possibly coming because of the initial loss of the contract."
Eckmann sees one bright spot. WPS is not moving out of Wausau. "If there's an upside, we know WPS still has a commitment to the area, and is keeping a smaller office contingent here with hopes that a new contract will come in and these folks will be re-employed at some point."
The WPS layoffs come just two weeks after Wausau Paper announced that it was going to sell its paper mill in Mosinee. The loss of the mill jobs as well as the insurance jobs would be devastating to the local economy. But Eckmann says after talking to industry leaders, he now doesn't think it is likely that the mill will be shut down. "In the technical paper industry, which Mosinee serves, it's a rather strong mill. I would certainly downplay any expectation that that mill would close, because that's not the industry's expectations."
The WPS Health Insurance layoffs will take effect at the end of March.