Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Closes

Well, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone in the Martinsville area. After a two-year will-they-or-won't-they waiting game, American of Martinsville has apparently closed its doors. From WDBJ 7:

It's lights out at one of Henry County and Martinsville's main furniture manufacturers. The question is, for how long?

Employees at American of Martinsville tell News7 their bosses sent them home from the Redd Level Plant at the end of last week. A security guard is now manning the front gate.

The front doors to the main headquarters in Uptown Martinsville were also locked on Tuesday and executives ignored repeated phone calls made by Your Hometown Station.

Henry County's economic development team seemed to be blind sided by the news as well when a call was made to them Monday afternoon by News7.

All of this is frustrating for the more than 200 employees at the Redd Level location. Many fear what this means for their retirement benefits since they say the company has not given them any clear answers on the status of the plants' operation.

The best part?

It's still unclear what will happen to a Martinsville furniture plant that's been shut down. But the company's president is headed elsewhere.

Trade magazine Furniture Today reports Noel Chitwood left his job as president of American of Martinsville. He's taken a job with a Chinese manufaturer called Lacquer Craft Furniture.

I don't begrudge Mr. Chitwood finding another job, but he knew about this closing long before anyone else did. He had time to get his affairs in order and my guess is he'll do fine financially at his new job. He has the luxury of moving and the industry connections to have some options. Everyone else was blindsided, apparently including the Economic Development Corporation. Moreover, American's former employees don't exactly get to have mobility and industry connections--after all, this is the 21st century and they are manufacturing workers. In the global economy, they're becoming the new serfs.

And that, in a nutshell, is why this economy will never recover until we get our trade policies in order. Globalization will destroy this country unless we change course. As long as the manufacturing sector continues to shrink because of unfair foreign competition--i.e. trading with countries that play by a 19th-century rulebook--the middle class will continue evaporating and the ranks of the working poor will grow. See how many cheap Chinese tables you can sell to someone who can't find a job.

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