When I began writing in this space last January, my first commentary was about the closing of the Gallipolis Kmart and the effect on the local economy when its doors were locked for good. Sadly, some 32 columns later, I find myself considering the impact of no further activity at an even larger component to the financial well-being of the tri-county area. Believe me, I’d rather be writing about something else than the potential loss of around 140 jobs, but this news means too much to too many people.
The shutdown of any local business affects us all, not the least of which the folks who make their living by that business, no matter how small or large. That’s the heartbreaking reality behind last week’s announcement that production will come to an end sometime around the end of the year at M&G Polymers in Apple Grove due to the company’s “financial difficulties” and need to cut spending. From past experience, we all know that reduction in cash outlay comes down to cutting or eliminating jobs, and I’ll bet that most people reading this know at least someone who’s on M&G’s payroll. And that’s also the sum of corporate thinking when outgoing revenue is not supported by income. In science fiction terms, Isaac Asimov referred to such considerations as the “cold equations.”
Okay, so that’s how it is. It’s in such contingencies the task for those of us as neighbors is to help those individuals affected by job losses in any way possible as the newly-unemployed try to fill that void in their lives. And on a bigger scale, it’s also incumbent on our local leadership to solve this problem through economic development or by at least convincing M&G management that if business conditions improve, or another mission is found for the plant, Mason County stands ready to support M&G in resuming production. What M&G’s intentions are beyond ending further work at the plant have not been spelled out. Mason County Commission President Tracy Doolittle maintains she, fellow commissioners Rick Handley and Sam Nibert, and the county’s Development Authority will do everything possible “to stop this tragic loss of jobs and opportunity for Mason County.”
Support from Gallia and Meigs counties will also make a difference, as the employee roster no doubt includes residents in those Ohio River communities. I knew that fact from reporting on a 2004 rally for M&G workers concerned about their jobs, gathering in a field across W.Va. 2 from the plant on a hot August afternoon to make their sentiments known. I encountered people I knew from Gallia County whose livelihoods, like those of their co-workers, depended on the jobs provided by M&G. The event was a keen spot for both local and regional political candidates to be seen and heard, and even perennial office-seeker Ken Hechler, undeterred by his then-age of 89, drove up in his colorfully decorated open Jeep to press the flesh and lend his support.
Last week’s story about the M&G announcement aroused similar messages of support from state and federal legislators we hope will carry some weight with management. West Virginia State Senate President Mitch Carmichael perhaps struck a more realistic tone when he commented that while such efforts “do not always result in success, the state government will stand with the workers.” Carmichael spoke of convincing the Italian-owned resin manufacturer “to support alternative employment options for the workers and re-purpose the site,” Ohio Valley Publishing newspapers reported, and we further advocate that M&G officials at least listen to such a proposal. It’s certainly not out of this world to suggest such an idea or anything similar to preserve jobs at M&G, as Niche Polymers announced the addition of 30 positions at its Ravenswood plant on Sept. 27.
For as Doolittle and Development Authority Director John Musgrave pointed out, M&G pays around $370,000 in taxes to Mason County that support the schools and other government functions. That’s something than can’t be lightly dismissed. The loss of paychecks to employees is disastrous on a personal level and has an almost incalculable effect on businesses on both sides of the Ohio those workers patronize. We realize that closing of production plants in this area are not uncommon and somehow the economy survived, but we are again asked to consider, can we withstand any more losses? We now understand that if competition to lure new manufacturers and higher-paying positions to the area is too stiff, retention of jobs that we already have becomes even more critical to the area’s fiscal survival.
To that end, we hope and pray that officials’ efforts to change M&G’s mind and have it remain a presence at its riverside facility yield positive results. The alternative is, for the moment, a little tough to contemplate, but is a situation we cannot ignore. And if such diverse factors as health, space and circulation allow me to submit another 32 columns or more, I personally hope that among them is a discussion of better economic news for our region.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.