GM still owns the plant and, technically, it's on "standby." In reality, it's a deserted hulk of 4.8 million square feet surrounded by weed-choked parking lots. Most of its employees retired early or accepted offers to move to other plants. Even if the automaker reopened, city economic development director Vic Grassman says wages would be far lower because of union agreements struck before the plant was idled.

About 6,000 jobs were lost at the plant and at businesses it supported. At the Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership in Janesville, manager Gary Sinks says sales are still ringing in at about half of what they were before GM "turned out the lights." In the year after the plant shut down, people simply stopped visiting his store and he was forced to lay off 10 people from his staff of 50.

"We downsized and we'd never done that," Sinks said. "It was pretty dark. That meant that everyone who was still there had to work harder and do a better job maintaining (relationships with) whatever customer was walking through the door."

Ryan's family wasn't immune. The earth-moving company the family's forebears founded in the mid-1880s, run today by Ryan's cousin Adam, was forced to sell some of its equipment and lay people off. Revenue has dropped 25 percent since 2008, said Jeff Schultz, the company's human resources manager.

"We just haven't had the demand. Business hasn't broken out," Schultz said. "We've accepted this as maybe the new normal."

As the GM plant headed for closure, Ryan â¿¿ who has represented Janesville in Congress for the past 14 years â¿¿ made a rare departure from his free-market orthodoxy that frowns on government intervention. He backed the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, a bailout Romney has loudly said was a mistake, and teamed with Democrats in Madison and in Wisconsin's congressional delegation to unsuccessfully lobby GM to keep the plant running.

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