Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Auto Industry Will Create American Ghost Towns

With the announcement of plant closures across the country, both GM and Chrysler are devastating communities which have relied upon these plants for jobs, tax revenues, and futures. Now that many of these towns are facing plant closures, the laid-off workers are grappling with exactly what they are going to do next, and what will come next for the town.

In some of the towns which received the awful news, nearly 20% of the workforce works either directly or indirectly for the automotive industry: whether it's building the cars, working security at the plants, creating graphics or additions to the cars, running repair and maintenance shops for the vehicles, working for trucking companies shipping the vehicles around the country, etc. etc. This move is truly going to create new American ghost towns.

One plant that is closing is the Mansfield/Ontario plant in Ohio. This community relies heavily on the plant and within days of the plant closing, more than 3 dozen local businesses (within a 20-mile radius) closed. The ripple effect is almost immediate. About 15% of this community's population worked directly in the plant. With the loss of jobs, the local unemployment rate will skyrocket, the local housing market and property taxes will plummet almost immediately, and cuts will be made across the board to schools, police officers and fire fighters, and town and city workers. This doesn't include everyone else that will then be affected by THIS second ripple effect. Where will it end?

Somewhere with very high unemployment, and a town that is nearly (if not entirely) an American Ghost Town.

In addition, this community also had two Circuit Cities (bankrupt last year), which employed a good percentage of the population, and featured three GM and/or Chrysler car dealerships, which are also marked by the companies for closure. All told, the community will be going from boom to bust in approximately 16 months. One person interviewed stated they are making plans to move as soon as possible as the future of the town seems to be "dying by the minute." I would argue it is dying by the second.

But with all of this going on, one has to wonder where allegiances lie and who is to blame for all of this? Of those interviewed, NOT ONE blamed either GM or Chrysler, and did not reference their gross overestimation, their lack of planning and cognizance about the future of the automotive industry, the UAW and its skyrocketing demands in the past two decades, which ultimately have put a fiscal strain on the plants and the companies that could have adapted much more easily if the unions weren't so steadfast on keeping wages above those that most Americans make. (Average auto worker in the town = $44 per hour. Average police officer = $28/hour.--Reuters)

I understand a certain allegiance must rest with the company that provided your livelihood for years (if not decades or your entire family's lives), but there seems to be an overwhelming naivety prevailing in the town when it comes to the root cause of all of this. It is, of course, greed.

Greed from unions, consumers, companies, etc. etc. etc. The exorbitant lifestyles and sales could not be maintained, and that's a reality that no one there seems to understand or accept. Is it really a shock that 13 million cars per year (from a SINGLE company!) isn't maintainable? It would have been a huge warning signal for me, had I seen those figures before this recession hit hardest. I would have warned and begged for immediate concessions, furloughs, etc. to try to stave off these severe layoffs and now plant and dealership closures.

But I suppose that speaks to the heartiness of the American worker--that we will keep fighting for what we love, will hold our enemies at bay and keep our friends close.

But what really fired me up was one man, an employee for 21 years at the plant, who blamed President Obama for the plant closures.

If anything, this man should be thanking the government for doing what it has done. Without the serious interventions and the billions spent to prop up these companies, the plants would have closed long ago, more jobs would have been lost, and the industry itself might not have recovered at all. Now I understand that this man was upset because his plant was one of the ones that was closed, so to him the whole automotive industry might as well have closed down completely. His subjectivity on the issue is definitely something I empathize (perhaps sympathize as well) with and understand completely, but he has to read the writing on the wall.

It was inevitable, and should have happened long ago. The roof could not be supported for much longer, and the past administration and the current one with spent billions to prop up the roof with support beams. Ultimately though, part of it had to come crashing down in order to support the majority of it. (I know the minority and majority is a bit of a 50/50 in some arguments, but in the overall scope, it's more like a 80% maintain, 20% fail/close scenario that has played out).

President Obama is not to blame at all, and no blame should fall on him. If I were President Obama, I would be greatly offended after trying to assist American workers like this man who then appear ungrateful that anything was done in the first place! Is it really so shocking that so many other Americans were so irate about the amount of money spent to prop up these failing companies?

They all had a long, prosperous run, but just like the stock market and the overall economy, there comes a time when there has to be a recession (or depression) in the automotive industry. I believe this is the big one for the Big 3. With restructuring comes a slow rebuilding (akin to putting up support beams first BEFORE building a heavy, gold roof), will come more jobs and possibly plant reopenings in the years to come. Production is very low right now, but a need will arise years from now for more cars again (just as long as these companies realize that a huge demand akin to the 2004-2006/early 2007 surge is not sustainable!). As the company restructures and creates more appealing and useful automobiles, perhaps some of these closed plants will become specialized plants. It is definitely time for these companies to invest in bio-diesel, hybrid, electric, etc. automobiles and begin mass producing them as soon as possible.

The only way for GM to survive is to evolve.

In 1916 they were General Motors. In 2009 they are Government Motors. In 2012 they SHOULD be Green Motors --the company at the forefront of the race to be green, to create the types of environmental-friendly cars that will be cherished by those who want excellent gas mileage (for the $4.50 gallon gas of the near future), want to save the planet, or want a car that is sleek and attractive and not a wallet-breaker.

Get to work, GM. And to the auto workers cited in this blog, please reconsider your stance on who is to blame. Ultimately there are many culprits, not a single one. And each of these culprits dealt in a single themes: greed.

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