Americans Need To ‘Make Stuff’

In March, the highest unemployment rates in West Virginia and Ohio were, respectively, Wetzel County at 12.7 percent and Monroe County at 12.5 percent. Why? In a word: Ormet.

Both counties had fairly high unemployment rates before the aluminum plant at Hannibal shut down. Ormet sent the numbers skyrocketing.

Except for coal mining and a few chemical plants, Ormet’s closure marked the end of big-employment industries in this area of the Ohio Valley. When the potlines went cold at Hannibal, about 1,000 men and women lost their jobs.

Both Wheeling-Pittsburgh and Weirton steel companies are history, taking with them mills that, at their peaks, had more people on their payrolls than medium-sized towns in our region have residents.

Industry is our heritage and the foundation of our prosperity in this area. But the nature of the endeavor has changed dramatically.

Look at the gas processing plant at Natrium. Not so long ago, a facility that large would require hundreds of workers. Or consider the gas-fired power plant proposed for near Moundsville. It will have about the same capacity as the old Kammer Plant – but only about 30 workers.

Many companies in our area have had to adapt. Now, some produce more than they did a few decades ago, but with a fraction of the workforce.

We’re not alone, of course. Throughout the nation, technology and innovation have made it possible to produce far more with far less. Look at farming for an excellent example of that.

Nowadays, when economic developers and politicians go looking for ways to bring new jobs to an area, manufacturing isn’t high on the list.

That’s a shame – and not just because people like us whose foundations are in manufacturing miss the good jobs in large numbers.

It’s a shame because, regardless of how many jobs are involved, America needs manufacturing. Look at the steel and aluminum companies. What happens when countries from which we now have to import much of the metal we use decide to cut us off?

As a friend once put it, we can’t be a prosperous, secure country unless “we make stuff.” As matters stand, we’re not worrying enough about that.

Myer can be reached at: