By Kyle Rea
St. Thomas Times-Journal
As fallout continues from the news that Ford’s St. Thomas Assembly Plant will shut its doors in fall 2011, three of the biggest casualties locally — Southwold township, the Lear Seating plant and the Elgin-St. Thomas United Way — are taking a look at a future without the plant.
Last Friday, leaders of the Canadian Auto Workers union confirmed what has long been suspected, that the St. Thomas Ford facility will shut its doors in September, 2011, as the company looks to phase out production of the large cars manufactured there — the Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and Grand Marquis. When that happens, 1,400 people will lose their jobs.
But the impact doesn’t stop there — Jim Stanford, CAW economist, estimates as many as 10,000 jobs could be lost in spin-off industries in St. Thomas and local areas. That’s in addition to more than $3 million in lost tax revenue.
Mayor Jim McIntyre said he wasn’t able to pin down how much tax revenue will be lost by Southwold, but it’s going to be big.
“It’s a major impact plus the county is going to be impacted as well,” he said. “We hoped that it wasn’t going to happen, but we’ve started to put some dollars away in reserves to take the spike out of the impact. We’re still hoping at the end of the day that we’re going to keep this thing open.”
McIntyre worked hard together with local politicians to save the plant. Earlier this year, a group met with provincial representatives about the Ford plant, trying to bring in a new vehicle line or keep the existing Crown Victoria — a vehicle preferred by police forces, McIntyre noted.
He noted the province did step up to the plate, offering Ford $150 million to stay in St. Thomas.
“To no avail, but at the end of the day at least we tried,” he said. “Ford wasn’t even receptive to considering that.”
Fred Sinclair, president of CAW 2168 which represents workers at Lear, said the situation isn’t good for the local car seat manufacturing plant — Ford’s St. Thomas plant is its only customer.
“I think there’s always a worry when you hear that a customer of yours is closing. For us, we’re still waiting for Lear to say we’re closing. We know there’s no other product for us. I think we’re just going to have to sit back and wait … it’s too bad Ford isn’t looking at staying here in St. Thomas, helping out the economy and keeping people employed.”
Sinclair mused that the city is turning into a town of museums — there are those honouring St. Thomas’s railway history
“Now we might as well make a manufacturing museum in St. Thomas because of the loss of the industry.”
On South Edgeware Road, Sinclair said, there used to be plenty of traffic around 10 a.m. when Lear workers generally take a morning break. Now the road is almost empty — indeed, he thinks soon the only two employers left in northeast St. Thomas could be Takumi Stamping and Tim Hortons.
One organization on South Edgeware Road that will also feel the effects when the Ford plant closes is the local United Way.
“It’ll have a huge impact,” said CEO Sharon Lechner. “We’re going to have to look at other sources of funding and really be more selective about what programs and services we do support. It’s going to be programs and services that very closely match our funding priorities.”
Whether there will be a reduction in the number of groups or programs receiving aid from the United Way won’t be known until the closing actually happens, Lechner noted.
This year’s campaign is well under way — in fact, the United Way is hosting a stair climb at the Timken Centre on Thursday — and is proceeding well.
“People are understanding the need and there are people out there who, last year, supported the program and are now using programs and services. We’re doing everything we can,” she said.
In years past, CAW 1520 workers have donated up to $250,000 to the United Way, noted Dave Kerr, president of the St. Thomas and District Labour Council.
“They’ll take a huge hit when these plants go down,” he said, adding the situation is also true for Lear. “When that plant closes, unless Lear finds some significant work somewhere else, it’ll cause all of their facility to be unemployed … it’ll have a huge impact on the St. Thomas and District Labour Council.
While some workers will be receiving up to $100,000 in severance from Ford, as well as new vehicle vouchers, “Nothing they receive will replace their job,” Kerr added.
By Kyle Rea