This was devastating news. Something that hit me a little harder than I expected it to. Montana has managed to avoid the economic dislocation that’s rocked much of the country, but an announcement made Monday really brought the bad economy home.
Smurfit-Stone, which is in bankruptcy, announced Monday that as part of its restructuring it is closing its massive linerboard mill in Frenchtown on Dec. 31. It’s a huge mill, more than 417 jobs lost. Quite a sad Christmas present to a lot of people. This is the third major mill closure in western Montana in the past year. The other two were in Bonner and Columbia Falls. I think nearly 1,000 people have lost their jobs at these three mills this year. It has very much to do with the collapse of the housing market throughout the country.
400 jobs may not sound like that much, especially compared to the economic carnage that has gone on in places like Detroit, but the impact is enormous, more than I realized it would be. There will probably be the loss of dozens of other supporting jobs that haven’t been accounted for yet. The payroll at the Frenchtown mill all by itself provided 4 percent of the economy of a county of 105,000 people. The closure of the mill means that the Frenchtown School District will lose 24 percent of its tax revenue — 24 percent. That means laid-off teachers, etc.
Of course, jobs based on natural resources are notoriously shaky. When I lived in Oregon, mills were closing left, right and centre. People there blamed environmentalists, but I guess they didn’t notice all those logs in Coos Bay being shipped over to Japan for milling because the timber companies figured out that was cheaper than paying American union wages.
Still, I think all of Montana is in shock. Some people thought this might happen, but still, there’s a feeling that you just can’t prepare for this. I wonder if this could somehow threaten my job security. Of course, a lot of people at angry at Smurfit-Stone for the timing of the announcement. I’m sure they are closing on Dec. 31 for tax considerations. Of course, reading comments at the local Web sites, some people are blaming Obama. Not sure what their logic is. I think for some people, it’s when in doubt, blame that Muslim Socialist in the White House.
There’s been some jobs preserved in western Montana through the stimulus package, but it can’t compete with 417 lost jobs. I think we’re talking dozens of saved jobs at various small mills.
It was a sad day. We talked about what we could do to feel better about it. We don’t have much money or much to give, but when we went grocery shopping today, we bought an extra bag of non-perishables, then two, then three, then four – and took them to the local food bank. People are going to be needing it. It wasn’t much. It was all we could think of. That and counting our blessings this holiday season.