With local change looming, leadership needs to emerge

Globalization. We’ve all heard the word, and we have some idea what it means. But until it happens to you, it’s hard to grasp its real impact.
Globalization is converging over Newton and Jasper County like a thunderhead spawning a tornado. And, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, globalization means that “one person’s economic liberation is another person’s unemployment.”
As today’s front-page stories on Maytag indicate, Newton and Jasper County are headed for a change. Although expert analysts say the local impacts will be different depending upon which bidder is successful, all possible outcomes would pose serious economic challenges.
Figuratively speaking, we are likely to lose an arm or a leg — and the choice is not ours to make.
Under the Ripplewood buyout, Newton and Jasper County might not see the full effect for a few years. But it’s only delaying the inevitable. As one analyst said, “you get to keep your jobs for now.”
Ripplewood would work to return the Maytag brand to its former stature.  However, it would probably achieve this by moving more production offshore, closing plants and reducing employment across the board.  Then it would sell the company for a tidy profit, quite possible to a foreign competitor.
The Whirlpool deal would likely result in quicker, more catastrophic results. Maytag corporate headquarters could close in short order, as the global appliance giant would have little need for Maytag’s white-collar workers.
And if either bidder succeeds — or if neither does — the future of Maytag production in Newton remains uncertain. Workers took concessions in last year’s four-year contract deal, but Maytag says the Newton plant remains one of its highest-cost facilities, and another round of layoffs is expected next month. In addition, the corporate leadership is in the process of redefining its overall manufacturing footprint, which could lead to closure of Maytag’s flagship facility.
Analysts say any owner — Maytag, Ripplewood or Whirlpool — will need to renegotiate the contracts to make the plant more competitive.  Without that, the plant may not escape closure or downsizing in the near term, or a phaseout in the long term when its product lines are replaced in favor of new designs.
None of this bodes well for Newton and Jasper County’s prospects, but we are not without hope. This community possesses immense resources and talents that can be brought to bear on making a new future.
Exhorting Americans to conquer outer space, President John F. Kennedy said, “The facts of the matter are that we have never made the decisions or marshaled the resources required for such leadership.”
Neither has Newton or Jasper County — and now, with the scenarios for Maytag’s future now becoming clearer, it’s time to rise to the challenge.

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