The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 25, 2019 1:00 am

Necessity can bring on changes, opportunity

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Gayle Goodrich is handy with a hammer ... and a wrench and a screwdriver.

She has to be. The 49-year-old Fort Wayne woman spends her days fixing up and managing eight rental properties – one duplex, two fourplexes and five single-family homes.

But her days weren't always spent this way. A decade ago, Goodrich was a product designer at Navistar International Corp., which employed about 1,400 at a Truck Design and Technology Center at 2911 Meyer Road.

Corporate officials decided in September 2010 to consolidate Navistar operations to Lisle, Illinois, closing the local center in stages. Goodrich, who lost her job in December 2012, was among the last to leave.

The pullout was official about two years before her last day, but Goodrich began preparing about five years earlier, after the 2007 union contract negotiations grew contentious and company officials floated the idea of moving the operation to South Carolina.

“I wanted to have options,” she recalled last week during a phone interview.

So Goodrich enrolled at Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne, as it was known then, and started working on a master's degree in sociology, averaging two courses each semester while working full time.

“It was a lot,” she admitted.

Navistar's tuition reimbursement program paid for the classes.

“Otherwise, I don't know if I would have done it if I'd had to take out loans,” she said.

Goodrich finished the master's program in spring 2012, just months before she lost her job. The degree became the parachute that would soften her landing into another career.

But first, she had to deal with the emotional trauma of seeing hundreds of co-workers lose jobs.

“It didn't really sink in until the round when they cut the entire engineering staff,” she said. “I'll never forget the first day when I walked onto that floor where hundreds of engineers had worked and it was silent. To this day, I still have nightmares about it.”

Her advice to anyone preparing for the next recession is to “build up your mental resilience” and be open to change.

Soon after losing her job, Goodrich was hired as the AFL-CIO community service liaison director of labor and community services, the local liaison between labor and United Way of Allen County. The sociology degree was a big piece of what qualified her for the work.

Meanwhile, she and her husband, Jeff Burdek, started buying, fixing up and renting out houses. The move struck them as a good way to diversify retirement savings.

When the stock markets plunged during the Great Recession, they decided to keep their 401(k) money invested in mutual funds because they were young enough to wait for a rebound. But Goodrich saw her parents' anxiety and realized she'd feel more secure if some of their savings was in real estate and generating steady income.

Goodrich and Burdek's first experience with home ownership helped prepare them to become landlords. In about 1995 they moved into a stucco dwelling in the West Central neighborhood.

They hired an electrician and a plumber for a full kitchen remodel, but affordable drywall workers were hard to find. So they relied on library books to teach themselves, Goodrich said.

“That's how we started – it was out of necessity,” she said of learning home remodeling skills.

Goodrich has advanced to doing basic electrical and plumbing work but hires a contractor for extensive jobs.

For now, the couple are reinvesting their rental income in home improvements and buying more properties. Burdek's income from a software development contract covers their living costs.

They reduced their mortgage by $40,000 back in 2010, after Navistar confirmed its plan to leave Fort Wayne, by selling their home and buying a less expensive one. They also cut other expenses.

When the next recession comes, Goodrich expects to stop buying new rentals while continuing to manage existing properties. They will use the income stream to supplement Burdek's consulting income.

Although they make enough money to keep investing in properties for now, the self-employed couple face some financial challenges. They have to pay for health care insurance without an employer to pick up a portion of the costs. And Goodrich definitely misses paid vacations.

“But it's nice kind of being in control of our destiny,” she said after comparing her life now to working for Navistar. “I'm much happier with how things turned out.”

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