A vision of Christmas future?Written by Jim Blue | | email@example.com
My wife and I just returned from Dayton following a holiday visit to my in-laws. And what I saw there could be either a vision of Toledo’s Christmas future or a cautionary tale worthy of Charles Dickens.
The Scrooge in Dayton for 2008 is the closing of the venerable GM Truck Assembly Plant in suburban Moraine. On the second day of winter, more than 1,000 hourly workers lost their jobs.
I worked in Dayton for seven years, first at WHIO-TV and then at WDTN-TV. During my tenure, we called the Moraine facility “the S-10 plant” because of the small trucks built there. But many longtime Dayton folks called it “the Frigidaire plant” because it was built by that historic GM subsidiary back in 1951.
The plant’s history goes back even further, to the early 1900s when it was owned by the Wright Brothers Airplane Company. It’s important to remember that in the early 20th century, Dayton was at the center of industrial innovation. And it could have remained that way.
The refrigerator plant was converted into a vehicle assembly plant in 1981. At its height, it employed more than 4,000 people. But during the last few years, workers in Moraine assembled the GMC Envoy and its twin, the Chevy Trailblazer — mid-sized SUVs saddled with sloppy handling and mediocre fuel economy. After more than a half century of providing jobs and hope to generations of auto workers, poor sales killed the Moraine Assembly plant. Today, the 200 acre factory is quiet. The last of the SUVs rolled off the line on Dec. 22. The future of the plant is known only to GM.
As I drove past the Moraine facility, I thought about the thousands of Jeep workers in Toledo, idled during a holiday shutdown and waiting to hear what the future holds. I thought about the GM Powertrain workers in the same boat. And I thought about the countless others in supporting facilities wondering what the year ahead will bring.
By industry standards, the Toledo plants are among the best. Don’t forget that just this year Toledo Jeep was recognized by the Harbour Report as the most productive vehicle assembly plant in the nation, better even than Toyota’s. And Toledo Powertrain won Harbour’s transmission factory category for the second year in a row.
With luck, that recognition will translate into renewed sales and a more secure future once the economy begins to rebound.
I was surprised to hear my Dayton relatives talk enviously about Toledo’s entry into solar panel technology. At least three local companies are using Toledo’s expertise in glass technology to launch 21st century enterprises. My in-laws thought Toledo was visionary compared to their hometown. You get some perspective when you travel even 150 miles south.
The holidays are no time to be out of work, uncertain about the future and contemplating a cold winter. But it’s also a time to take pride in what we have, to look forward to the New Year and to be mindful that each day from here on brings a little more sunlight.
E-mail columnist Jim Blue at Jim@JimBlue.com.