Local Manufacturing Takes Another Hit

Brent Finnegan -- September 1st, 2009

More bad news from the local economy. WSVA reports that the Graham Packaging plant on West Wolfe Street laid off 34 employees yesterday.

A company spokeman went on to say that the layoffs are needed to reduce overhead and to help the plant to become more comptitive. In addition, the entire plant will shut down for one week, September 23- 29th, to help reduce labor and operational costs.

It’s been a rough couple of years for Graham. Last year the company announced temporary layoffs of 60 employees and a reduction in work hours.

I interviewed economist Bill Wood a few months ago about the struggling manufacturing industry in this area, and the future of the local economy in general. Here’s what Wood had to say:

One of those difficult transitions is the disappearance of good jobs in light manufacturing. If you look around Page County and other places around us, there is light manufacturing. We have a productive workforce, but it’s very difficult to make money with light manufacturing in the world that we have today.

So the question is; how do we avoid the polarization that comes when middle class jobs disappear. If the answer is “nothing,” then the possibility is that you get sort of an upper-class that works at some of the very good and high tech, new expanding employers, as well as healthcare and education. And then you’d have a lot of other people that are in service jobs that provide services to these other high-paid industries. I think that’s a very unfortunate trend.

I think the answer to that is that we have to have very good preparation for jobs. It’s vocational education, but it’s more than that. It involves realistically identifying where the opportunity is, and getting young people trained, and older people retrained for those new jobs. A lot of those are service jobs, but that’s not a bad thing if they’re the right service jobs.

An auto mechanic is a good example. It is a service job in a way, but it is a highly technical job. Good mechanics make good money, they provide a very valuable service we need. So, how do you get people that have that aptitude steered in that direction? … I think we need to provide very good opportunities for people like that, but I’m not sure how we do it.

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6 Responses to “Local Manufacturing Takes Another Hit”

  1. Renee says:

    In the land of Capitalism, the rich get richer, right? It is hard for medium-sized businesses like many light manufacturing plants to stay afloat sometimes due to large corporate competition, sometimes due to a slow in demand, and sometimes because keeping up with the latest technologies and products costs a lot. (Re-fitting a plant to make/pack/ship a new product can be very expensive.) Any idea why Graham is having a tough couple of years?

    I would be working in the manufacturing industry if I weren’t working in the software industry, so I find this interesting.

  2. Well, technically Graham has 58 locations all over the US, and even more on other continents. So, really, they are a large corporation. But my best guess is that this is happening to companies like this everywhere.

  3. Karl says:

    FYI, Sarvey now says weeklong work stoppage not necessary.

  4. Thanks, Karl. I’ll update the story.

  5. I don’t doubt that there is a super competitive market for the production of shampoo bottles or whatever it is that Graham makes.

    On the other hand, there is a waiting list for the purchase of high capacity photovoltaic solar panels right now. Why aren’t Virginians making the products of the future? Where is our leadership in this critical time?

    Senator Creigh Deeds and others have struggled to bring legislation that would encourage the manufacture and purchase of green energy infrastructure – and has been opposed by our local House Delegates and Senator Obenshain.

    Biomass production, solar power, wind power, battery technology all require manufacture and service by skilled workers. We have those people right here. But I challenge anyone to find any leadership or vision from Senator Obenshain, Matt Lohr or any other incumbent Valley representative on the matter of providing 21st Century jobs for Valley residents.

  6. Here is what a real vision for sustainable energy and good paying jobs looks like.

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