So, it appears that the slightly gloomy prediction I offered in November might sadly be coming to pass. Hershey seems to be on course to close the Smiths Falls plant within the year. This will be a major blow to Smiths Falls and surrounding areas, not least Montague Township, coming on the heels of the closure plans at Rideau Regional.
I'm not sure that much can be done to influence the company in the decision; their announcement of a new plant in Mexico at the same time as disclosing the potential closure in Smiths Falls suggests that they've had a plan in place for some time. The question is therefore what can be done to maintain the local economy when Hershey leaves. On the face of it, Smiths Falls offers an attractive proposition for a medium sized manufacturing operation. Well served by road and rail links, with plenty of the right kind of real-estate and a local population of skilled factory workers. The problem is not so much about Smiths Falls, as it is about manufacturing industry in Canada and in Ontario.
The McGuinty Liberals have presided over a severe decline in manufacturing in Ontario, and Hershey is but one, minor symptom. Without a change in attitude from provincial government, our municipalities will be hamstrung in looking for a replacement for Hershey. Add in the potential for a federal Liberal government pursuing enviro-lunacy and the future for manufacturing operations in this part of the world looks bleak indeed.
The Ottawa Citizen quoted the example of Cornwall, Ont. as a town that re-invented itself; however much of Cornwall's replacement employment has come in the electronics business, and it grew at the right time - during the technology boom, and subsequently with companies like Nortel divesting their manufacturing operations. There's no sign that a repeat of such a massive expansion is coming any time soon. Smiths Falls will likely have to look to smaller companies and look at warehousing and distribution operations as a more likely bet.
On the other hand, anyone with the financial backing to open a discount chocolate store in the area in the next few months might stand to make a killing....