Wanted: New life for Rowan

  • Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2013 1:06 a.m.

First, the bad news. Some 340 workers will be laid off on April 8 from Freightliner’s truck-making plant in Cleveland. Fortunately, though, Freightliner will not be cutting as many jobs as the company projected just a few months ago.

To everyone but those 340 people, that’s a relief. In this slow period of recovery, every job is important, and manufacturing jobs are especially precious.

According to the National Association of Manufacturing, each dollar’s worth of manufactured goods produced in this country creates another $1.43 of activity in other sectors. In the service sector, for instance, the multiplier is only 71 cents.

The ripple effect of Freightliner’s payroll goes even further, as was evident at last week’s annual meeting for the Rowan County United Way. Freightliner received the Chairman’s Achievement Award for involvement by its top executive and employees, improvement in its campaign and getting out the United Way message to employees. Freightliner boosts not only the local economy but also nonprofit agencies that help make this a better place to live.

Rowan needs more manufacturers to join the ranks of Freightliner, Henkel, Magna Composites, McKenzie Taxidermy, Norandal, Performance Fibers, Schult Homes and Tuscarora Yarns — companies that employ 180 or more and churn out a steady supply of goods. That’s not an impossible dream. After a fling with offshore factories and cheap labor costs, some U.S. companies are bringing their manufacturing home for a variety of reasons: high shipping costs, the availability of inexpensive natural gas, greater ease of innovation.

In 1960, Southern Railway closed down Spencer Shops, a tremendous blow to the shops’ 3,000 workers and to the Rowan economy. The county had no Economic Development Commission then, but it did have community leaders who knew that the workers’ livelihood — and their own — depended on recruiting new industry. That’s how Fiber Industries (now Performance Fibers) came to build its mile-long building on U.S. 70 west of Salisbury.

Pillowtex closed in 2003, the recession hit in 2009, and Rowan has yet to fully recover. If 1960’s loss of the Spencer Shops was a heart attack, this year’s layoff of 340 Freightliner workers is another step in the hardening of Rowan’s arteries, slowly choking off our economic vitality. Just as local leaders worked together to resuscitate Rowan in 1960, today’s leaders need to pull together again, find a way to reverse this ongoing decline and pump new life into the local economy.

The bad news is, it won’t be easy. But finding a way to work together could be the first step toward a cure.

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