Feeling another’s pain
Mar 18, 2013 | 547 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Word of last week’s decision by Resolute Forest Products to idle a newsprint machine at its Calhoun mill — which will cost 150 workers their jobs — spread throughout Southeast Tennessee like a wildfire on a hot August night.

The announcement, attributed to the company’s U.S. Public Affairs Director Debbie Johnston, signaled a sobering reminder; that being, even a community like Cleveland and Bradley County which has become accustomed to good news over the past few years is always susceptible to a decline in tidings.

It tells us, too, that the U.S. economy and advancing technology are not such strange bedfellows. Most will argue technology is our friend. It is a reasonable assessment; yet, one look at history will also show innovation can be linked directly to job loss, as well as to job creation.

Over recent years, the evolving world of electronics has made life simpler, but it also has come at great cost to that part of the labor force caught unprepared for such change. For instance, technology has created less need for paper. Among newsprint manufacturers, professional printers and book publishers, survival now revolves around sustaining an existing customer base and cutting costs.

This is the scenario at play with the Resolute decision. Less demand for newsprint establishes the need for consolidation of operations. And when this occurs, the most efficient and cost-effective sites will remain among the standing.

The downsizing by Resolute probably comes as little surprise to company insiders — and knowledgeable outsiders — who understand the mandate, and the community pain, of such corporate decisions. The Calhoun layoff, which will affect many Bradley County households, is certainly not our area’s first major disappointment. And until we emerge entirely from the depths of these troubled times, it probably won’t be the last.

Resolute is just the latest casualty in this roller coaster of corporate misfortune.

America’s 6-year-old financial downturn, known to most as The Great Recession whose roots can be traced all the way back to late 2007, continues to impact corporate budgets and household wallets.

At home, this unforgiving plague has created the need to watch spending, pay down debt and make multiple personal sacrifices. In business, it has forced tough decisions like those by Resolute.

Like everywhere else in the U.S. and around the globe, households in our hometown have been forced to live off less and to delay, or cancel, discretionary spending. In a single home, the choices are easier. They affect fewer people and the decisions are less complicated because their end result is not so widespread.

But big businesses and large industries are a different matter. This is because of their own size, diversity and payroll.

The case of Resolute Forest Products is not so unlike other major companies, both domestic and overseas. Here’s why:

One, Resolute has multiple locations manufacturing the same product. Although the Calhoun mill is ceasing its newsprint operations, immediate and distant customers will still be served by mills in Augusta, Ga., Grenada, Miss., and Usk, Wash.

Two, Resolute faces unparalleled competition as does any manufacturer of paper. In this case, the primary foe is technology.

Three, Resolute is a large company and requires a significant employee base. Dating back to its years as AbitibiBowater and before that Bowater Inc., the company has worked in good faith to reduce its workforce and consolidate operations in order to better align profit and expenses with product demand. But with such a broad manufacturing footprint, job loss at this level will inevitably impact host communities, especially those with a long history of civic and jurisdictional partnerships.

Many households in Bradley and McMinn, and surrounding counties, over the next few months will feel the bite of this consolidation. The only true solace to impacted workers is that others have walked this path in a former day, they have endured the challenges of its many twists and turns, and most have emerged into a brighter light called “opportunity” — whether through new jobs or renewed education.

Today is not a shining moment for Bradley County and our neighbors.

But tomorrow is another day.