June 14, 2022
A few weeks ago I blogged about a disappointing shopping experience at a once-pre-eminent retailer. I must not have been the only unhappy customer because that particular store was on the closing list the parent company released. The announcement, along with the massive layoffs at one of the few manufacturing firms still active up here, have sent shockwaves through the community. As a “city kid” I never worried about how far you would have to drive to buy something. We were surrounded by brick and mortar retail stores and if one closed there would certainly be a new option opening up shortly. The “business model” has definitely changed and our local governments, heavily dependent on sales tax revenues, are scrambling to develop plans to fill the void. The mall that opened with much hoopla in 1981 will be almost empty soon; it will join hundreds of other retail centers around the country as monuments to the golden age of the shopping experience. A mall full of dance studios and resale shops does not have a chance of replacing those tax dollars. Our industry started down this lonely road around the time that mall building took off. A client investigating “design and build” opportunities was somewhat surprised that, even in the early 1980s, a mill project would have seven or eight DOMESTIC bidders. Today’s equipment builders struggle to find two qualified sources. You cannot maintain the required skillset or hope to train new engineers on a project every two or three years, so it is completely understandable that gear shops are reluctant to apply resources to quote a project that may not even be funded — much less built. My new hometown just organized a committee to study ways to revitalize its downtown area. Antique shops, boutiques, and brew pubs might attract the weekend tourists, but how many “coders” will the marketplace truly need? The region has an honorable history of making things; shouldn’t that be part of the plan too?