Cruel blow to workers

Moments before our shipment of Advertisers arrived at the loading dock we got a panicked call at the office.

Quickly word spilled out that A.O. Smith had announced the former GSW plant in Fergus would be closing by July.

Soon thereafter we learned that some office and warehouse jobs would be spared, although 350 factory workers would cease to have a job. Like many others in this community, the first reactions here were empathy for workers and the challenges they now face.

Within hours, most people knew of the gloomy News affecting friends and neighbours in Centre Wellington. We quickly posted a story on-line and used Twitter to state what we knew at that moment.

GSW has been synonymous with Fergus for generations. In fact, the odd old-timer might still refer to it as Beatty Bros. The plant and its workforce reflect almost one and a half centuries of innovation and engineering excellence, whether it was early farm equipment, steel-wares, hot water heaters or pumps.

This perhaps explains the caring response from Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj, MPP Ted Arnott and MP Michael Chong. All three politicians recognize GSW as one of those entities that up until recent times would have been an unthinkable announcement: Fergus without GSW? It strikes at the core of what many people counted on – as a place to make a living and a community-minded corporate citizen for generations.

Globalization and its cruel effect, has now hit close to home. While not entirely surprising, it stings the soul just the same.

Good people making good products isn’t enough of a recipe for business success today it seems. Like many companies purchased by international interests, the corporate eyes are always looking for cheaper labour, cheaper operating costs and better prospects of profit.

Outfits allowed to purchase Canadian companies should have a responsibility to the local communities they buy into, otherwise the prospect of shuttered plants will continue, here and elsewhere.

Further to that point, host communities have a responsibility to keep tax costs sensible and reasonable. Well-run communities will have a relatively satisfied workforce. Where property taxes are heavy, the business, as well as the resident, will be under pressure to make those payments, leading to higher product costs and higher labour costs. It’s pretty simple math, really.

No one wants to see a business close, for the sake of workers or the community. A closed factory and derelict buildings can quickly turn into a brownfield site – a fact well known in Fergus already.

Across from our office is a building showing the effects of vandalism and neglect by the day. Recognizing that point, it strikes us as curious that little effort has been made on the economic development front with respect to industry, apart from token mentions in one report or another.

While we appreciate the notion of helping workers with re-training and other aid programs, it seems, to us anyway, one of the best forms of help would be local jobs.

On that front, despite an expansive economic development budget over many years, essentially nothing of consequence has happened. There is no back-up plan or promise of jobs should an industry fail. Workers have nothing to fall back on despite all the money spent.

While our faith in government-sponsored job creation efforts continues to sour based on its abysmal record, we believe genuine entrepreneurs can still successfully provide employment opportunities, much the same as Beatty Bros. did over a century ago.

No one can expect an overnight cure for these 350 lost jobs, but at some point politicians need to dispense with plans and schemes and get down to the business of job creation by making it as easy as possible to set up shop here.