Saturday, December 9, 2006

Manufacturing Woes

It may be hard to believe now, but for the better part of a century, our community was known far and wide for its manufacturing prowess.

THEN: "Manufacturing plays an increasingly critical role in the economy of both [Charlottesville] city and [Albemarle] county. Manufacturing employment doubled during the decade of the '50s and increased by 50 percent during the '60s. It is still growing....Among the largest of these [local manufacturing firms], in terms of employment, are Acme Visible Records, Inc.; Frank Ix & Sons, Inc.; Morton Frozen Foods Division of ITT Continental Baking Company, Inc.; Murray Manufacturing Division of Arrow Hart, Inc.; Sperry Rand Corporation Marine Systems; and Stromberg-Carlson subsidiary of General Dynamics Corporation. Annual manufacturing payroll is approximately $75 million." Chamber of Commerce Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia, 1976

Charlottesville Silk Mill, 1914 (on Harris St., behind where the Preston Ave. Bodo's now stands)

NOW: "The loss of the Badger Fire Protection facility is only the latest in a long string of manufacturing plants in the Charlottesville area to shut its doors. 'We're moving into a global economy and that means manufacturing jobs get lost,' said Bob De Mauri, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development. 'Corporately owned international companies don't care about the jobs, they just care about the bottom line.'...[F]rom 1997 to 2004, Albemarle County lost between 26 percent and 50 percent of its manufacturing jobs. Charlottesville lost one out of every two manufacturing jobs. A Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce study in August found that the region lost 2,520 manufacturing jobs from 1995 to 2005." "Region Lacks Manufacturing," Daily Progress, 12/3/06 [emphasis added]

Charlottesville Woolen Mills, 1913

When you see how many manufacturing jobs we've lost in recent years, contrasted with our rapid gain in retail and service sector jobs and despite a low overall unemployment rate, you quickly begin to grasp why it is that working-class wages have remained relatively stagnant in these parts.

I want my local economy back.


emory said...

I don't know all the ins and outs, but it is interesting to note that six years before, in 1907, the Charlottesville Silk Mill was known as the H.C. Marchant Manufacturing Company.

See map at:

The Woolen Mills Exhibit, replete with photos of Henry Clay Marchant, abd stories from the Woolen Mills village continues at the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society through February.

How is it that in a time of incredible upheaval and social evolution a little old Charlottesville Company was able to emerge as the #1 supplier of high grade uniform cloth in the united states?
How is it that in a period characterized by labor's mobility this neighborhood achieved remarkable stability?

History has things to teach us.

emory said...

oops, let me break that url into two pieces:

Kempis said...

The Daily Progress article you site in your post was not available online.

I worked as a Temp at Badger Fire Protection for a few months this year.

While there I spoke with others who had been there much longer. The story they related to me was that near the beginning of the year, for at least a several months, they had a lot of non-english speaking latino's working at the plant. Then, just after the immigrant protests, one day they were all gone- the reason given: too many problems with bad social security numbers. After that they had to raise the wages by 3.00 an hour to hire citizens- from 8.00 to 11.00 (so don't let anyone tell you illegals don't impact wages).

Of course my understanding is that they were sold to a company called "Kiddie" based somewhere out of the Carolinas, and that company will be setting up the production facilities, that Charlottesville is losing, down in Mexico. So they'll get the jobs anyway, only down their the minimum wage is 4.oo/day.

DaveNorris said...

Bill--Interesting twist on the Marchant origins of the Silk Mill. I was not aware of that connection. I encourage everyone reading this to check out Bill's excellent exhibit at the Historic Society -- for more info., see

Kempis--Thanks for the info. on Badger. Call me a protectionist, a nativist, whatever -- we've got to stop hemorrhaging jobs to other countries and begin re-building our industrial base in this country. Manufacturing jobs were historically the best avenues out of poverty and into the middle class for millions of families. Working at Wal-Mart just doesn't cut it.


Kempis said...

Years ago ('98 or '99) I read an article in the L.A. times about what happens to small communities when the wealthy 'discover' them.

The short of it was that the wealthy by their presence change the nature of the economy in those communities. So when a business that paid decent wages eventually closed it is replaced not by another business of similar type- but instead by a business that catered to the new population, and by and large these businesses were the low paying "service industry" jobs.

The other effect is that the original "natives" of whatever community was 'discovered'- is that having lost decent paying jobs replaced by the low paying service industry positions- they either leave and try again somewhere else or more likely become a permanent underclass in the new service economy filling the positions in those low wage jobs.

In that instance the article was speaking of small Colorado towns discovered and transformed into 2nd home vacation destinations by the rich of Los Angeles. But it's also what's happened to Charlottesville since the early 1980's, and it's been helped along by federal trade policies that created incentives for exporting jobs abroad.

Additionally employers in the state of Virginia seem to be in love with the $8.oo/hour wage. Which aside from blatant greed- I just cannot understand the reasoning. In my opinion if you cannot afford to pay at least 10.oo/hour you can't afford to hire someone.

Lyle Solla-Yates said...

Hey, found this from the map linked off cvillenews. Some great points here.
Yeah, as soon as we had I-64 in, it really started to look like this was going to become the industrial capital of central Virginia (taken from Lynchburg, still without an interstate today). That whole globalization thing hasn't worked out well. Something I'm hoping to do in the near future is work on an eco-industrial plan for Charlottesville including policy guidelines for getting manufacturing going again locally using local resources.
And on the theme of towns that used to have industrial jobs, here's my favorite country song.
Greg Brown's Boomtown is another good one about cities that get found. Highly recommended, but I can't find a legal download for it online.
Sigh, back to work.

DaveNorris said...

Thanks Lyle. Loved that McMurtry song. Eco-industry is the way to go, let me know what you dig up. We're on every other list in the country, why not aim to get on this one:


DaveNorris said...

Oops, that would be...

Lyle Solla-Yates said...

Ooh, cool. We could do it. Question: is there a way to prepare research briefs for Council? I do a lot of research on this sort of thing for school and for fun, and I'd love a way to usefully share it.