The Closer

The Boeing Company announced this week the closing of one of its oldest facilities. Started in 1929 and located in Wichita, Kansas, this facility in its heyday built and serviced military aircraft with as many as forty thousand employees during World War II. I worked there a few years ago.

Georgia Gulf Chemicals and Vinyl’s announced in 2008 the closure of its Oklahoma City facility, which produced polyvinyl chloride. The plant, owned by several different companies over its long life, just wasn’t profitable. I worked there eleven years ago.

Monsanto Electronics closed its facility in 1998. This plant produced silicon wafers for use in development of computer chips by the likes of Motorola and Intel. The plant opened in 1981. I was part of the original crew for this plant and left in 1987.

Do you see a common thread here? How many others can ‘boast’ of having worked at three different closed facilities spanning two different industries?

Or is it just me? I could get paranoid about having worked at these places and wonder if I left them in such shambles that they couldn’t recover from my exploits. Sorry, that’s not it. I left a few years before times were hard enough to warrant a closure at each of these plants.

Things happen. Used to be a person could start a career at a company and expect to retire with full honors and a gold watch thirty years later. This started to change in the 1980’s. Suddenly companies’ profitability or lack thereof required a more fluid nature to changing market conditions. Moves to the southern United States began to cut the corporations’ costs.

As I’ve related in earlier posts, the Monsanto plant ran in the red for most of the six years I worked there.  Despite several attempts at making money, to get in the black, there seemed to be no way to turn a profit at this plant.

The Georgia Gulf plant ran afoul of high oil prices, as PVC is a petroleum-based product. Marginally profitable when I worked there in the late 1990’s, as the price of a barrel of oil increased, the profit margins were squeezed.

I’m unable to comment on my theories of why Boeing is closing the Wichita plant. Let’s just say it has been rumored for the past seven or eight years and so the announcement today was not a surprise.

Engineers need to be fluid. It used to be that transfers were recommended as a means of gaining experience. That’s how I ended up in North Carolina in the construction engineering position. Now, business environments and profitability seem to turn on a dime driven by outside factors like oil and utility costs, consumer demand, and competition. I’m sure there are some business and economic whiz kids out there that can explain why companies are more volatile now than they used to be. I’m just glad that fate and a little bit of reading the tealeaves that forecasted the impending closures have spared me from being part of it.

I imagine being told your job is moving to another state can be stressful. The things-to-do list expands to include your job, your family, and your security.  I’ll be thinking of my former co-workers in Wichita as they make the hard decisions that are best for their individual situations. Maybe some will find their way to Oklahoma and we will once again have the chance to work together. That could be a good deal for both of us.


About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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