News Tidbits 8/13/09: Ithaca’s Economy Gets a Dose of Reality

14 08 2009

Image property of Welch Construction Inc.

Well, the simplest way to put it is that the sh*t has hit the proverbial fan. Emerson Power Transmission, the company that owns the factory on South Hill, will be shutting its doors next year, putting 228 people out of work [1]. Not to mention the 200+ people they have laid off in the past year.

Name your reason. Energy costs. Cheaper alternatives from overseas factories. Losing a major customer as Magna Int’l shuts down its massive factory in Syracuse. An anti-business local political climate. Oppressive taxes due to an incompetent state government (which I agree with, but I digress). In the end, the jobs are still gone.

Yet, Ithaca continues to survive. A major setback for sure. But Ithaca has been through economic horror stories before.  Consider Smith-Corona.

Smith-Corona was once a large company based out of Cortland, which is 25 miles northeast of Ithaca. Founded in Syracuse in the 1880s, the once employed as many as 10,000 people [2].  Groton, a town just north of Ithaca, was home to a large Smith-Corona factory. They manufactured calculators and appliances, but their speciality was typewriters.

If you’re reading this blog entry right now, I think you can guess where this is going.

Well, with the rise of computers and pocket calculators, their business went belly up. They started to shut down their lines in the early 1980s, with the factory in Groton shutting down in 1983, with the loss of 400 jobs. At the time, 2,800 people were still employed in the factories in Cortland [3]. In 1992, they decided to eliminate 900 jobs from the area, moving them to Mexico [4]. That ended up being a waste too, as the company shut down the Mexican factories five years later. The company originally shifted the Groton jobs to Signapore, to a factory they owned there that had 1500 employees. That shut down a few years later. Today, there’s little left of Smith Corona. Maybe 100-150 employees at a “headquarters” in Cortland, working in consumer electronics services.

Well, life didn’t end in 1983 or 1992. The local communities have continued to survive, perhaps even reinvent themselves to some extent. The loss of jobs always hurts the community. But people get by. Some might move, embittered by the economic loss; others might find other gainful pursuits. Companies such as Advion and Incodema have grown and picked up some of the slack. The wine industry here has grown by leaps and bounds in the past twenty-five years. The area continues to evolve, although it may not always to everyone’s liking.

I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the loss of a major manufacturer. However, I’m trying to make a point that as long as there’s local business talent and people who are willing to take a risk and start new business ventures, then this area will continue to survive, perhaps even thrive in the long run.

[1]http://www.theithacajournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090812/NEWS01/90812029

[2]http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3718/is_199901/ai_n8834821/

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/1982/07/01/business/scm-will-close-plant-in-groton.html?scp=2&sq=groton%20smith%20corona&st=cse

[4]http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-13286094.html

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One response

17 08 2009
Ex-Ithacan

I understand your point. But this is the second time my brother has been laid off due to a factory closing in the last few years (he use to work at the Toshiba factory in Elmira). I know the high tech companies are the future, but I do feel a twinge of pain when another blue-collar job is gone. It seems that the Ithaca where I grew up is diminshing some each year. No more NCR, Morse Chain, Smith-Corona, Ithaca Gun, and now Emerson Power. I guess that’s progress, but it doesn’t lesson the sadness I feel when a way of life for so many folks I know is disappearing.

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