Although I was raised a Midwestern girl, until my recent 5-day trip to Colorado, I had spent almost no time in our country’s middle over the last several years. Recently, I got a little more than I bargained for at the Montrose, CO airport, so I went for a stroll outside. There, in a newspaper machine on the sidewalk: I saw this headline on USA Today:
“When the textile mill goes, so does a way of life.”
I found a dollar in change, and got the last copy from the dispenser. The story that followed traced massive job losses in Surry County, North Carolina, once a hub of the domestic textile industry.
Mount Airy, North Carolina
The story is a familiar one, of American manufacturing unable to compete with cheap goods from overseas, but reporter Paul Wiseman did a nice job of putting some faces on the story and looking towards the future. Some of that future, of course, is really bleak (BLS predicts the job market will lose 71,500 sewing machine operators between 2008 and 2018), but Wiseman managed to find a little bit of hope as well. He wrote about a government program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, that helps workers like Steve “Stump” Jenkins, who lost his job at Perry Manufacturing Mill in 2008, train for jobs in other fields. Jenkins chose law enforcement, his reasoning being that the police force couldn’t be displaced by foreign competition. He told the paper he loves his new job, but the fact remains he’s earning only $25,000 per year, less than a quarter of what he earned at Perry Manufacturing. Other workers are training in wine-making at Surry Community College, making use of land where fields of tobacco once grew.
I’ve sort of snubbed USA Today in the past (“Finches fight to death in blood sport” was, after all, the headline beside the one that caught my eye), in favor of fashion industry stories from The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But I’m glad I was stuck in Montrose for a moment, cause otherwise I might have missed this one.