Solutia downsizing a sign of changing times
There was a time in Morgan County when youngsters could finish high school and expect to follow their parents into good paying jobs at Monsanto, 3M, Saginaw Steering Gear and Amoco.
Three of those manufacturing giants that were once part of the area's industrial backbone now go by different names. None is what it was during its heyday two-three decades ago.
To keep financially healthy, each re-invented itself. Some did so several times.
Those expectations of good paying jobs, a nice in-town home or a little spread in the country and a fishing boat in the shed are not so certain today.
Solutia last week showed the strain that changing times had on the company that came here as Chemstrand, later became Monsanto Chemicals and is now about to jettison 500 of its last 750 employees. At one time the plant had 3,000 workers.
Amoco is now BP and Saginaw goes by the name of Delphi and employment is down from 4,200 to 2,200.
One by one, their market shares declined — mostly because of cheap foreign competition.
Change is inevitable. Morgan County has, since the heady days of chemical manufacturing, sought to diversify with a steel mill and the Boeing rocket booster plant.
Under Nucor, the steel mill is now making money. Boeing recently laid off 100 employees because orders are not coming in to keep these workers busy.
The older plants may not even exist in another decade, which means Morgan County must change also.
It's time for us to re-invent ourselves, not to slow the decline, but to tap into the future.
Morgan County, with Decatur leading the way, needs to decide on a direction. We've floundered for several years and now it's time to catch up. We probably need some outside help in deciding what the jobs of the near future are and if we want them here.
We also must consider if we had rather be a bedroom area for Madison County and send our displaced workers to jobs there.
Our future is not in the chicken processing industry. Our future is not in manufacturing of chemicals and their components. Our future is not in farming or as a center for higher learning. We don't even have a community college within the county.
Our people need evidence that we will survive the steady erosion of jobs and that we will rebound.
But first, we've got to decide what we want to be and go after that goal with great tenacity.
The county has a new commission chairman, Decatur has a new mayor and three new council members. Hartselle also had a major turnover in leadership.
They all are going to be judged by how they react to this challenge to provide new jobs. It is difficult to balance a government budget on the paychecks of the unemployed and the underemployed.