Rockford Tannery Demise

Dear Mr. Young,

Following your comments on January 29, 2009, in the Rockford Squire Newspaper (http://www.rockfordsquire.com), I write to express my condolences on the demise of the Rockford Tannery. While the closure of the tannery most directly impacts your community, it also has consequences for local economies beyond the borders of the United States.

Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, I currently live in the adjacent sub/urban community of Maple Ridge. In Vancouver, as in many other “global cities,” the selling of “place” has been a key value of economic restructuring. Successful marketing of space aimed at attracting capital reassures local communities. Yet, Canadian census data and qualitative surveys verify what we, at the community level, intuitively realize, the tourist economy has lead to a rising pool of low income deskilled labor who are being directed towards credit to purchase consumables. The absence of real industries and stable livable wages means that municipalities cannot accrue sufficient revenue to maintain or improve public programs. Ultimately, the decision to relocate is transformed into a political argument surrounding the right to quality of life.

Recent events confirm what previous data has indicated: Flexible capital does not necessarily provide new opportunities in old industrial areas. An example of this follows research of the Canadian footwear manufacturing sector. Beginning in the early part of the 1980s, federal policy trends indicated support of dumping action by overseas competitors. Ultimately, cheap imports forced most Canadian footwear manufacturing offshore, save for a few specialized firms. Trade policies coincided with decisions by provincial education ministries to close all shoe repair and shoe making technical programs. Such policies guaranteed that any efforts to revive Canada’s industry in the future (an industry that had existed for some 400 years in Canada), would be unlikely even if the global economy collapsed. Simply put, it was knowledge and skills that were eliminated.

In the immediate, your concern over the closure of the tannery is the financial and social well-being of your community. I would add, the closure of the tannery is a prescriptive directed against the domestic manufacturing of essential goods. The absence of knowledge and reliance on foreign supply make any future efforts to rekindle sustainable manufacturing economies difficult.

Closer to home, the loss of this location reinforces the buying policies of tertiary firms who incorporate leather goods in production away from domestic and certainly, US manufacturers. In this sector, supply chains are simply decoupling from North America. At the local level, the closure signals to entrepreneurs that the revival of traditional industries is, at best, valuable as a heritage/craft venture, profitable when packaged as an element of “selling place.” Thus, the decision is transformed into an argument surrounding quality of life for individuals and community.

I truly wish the town of Rockford the very best as the municipality and its residents reconcile this unfortunate decision. I hope every effort will be made to renew local investment in this sector.

Most sincerely,

Jacqueline Mulcahy, Dip. Interior Design,
BA, MA candidate SFU Urban Studies.

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