Peterborough’s Bleeding Heart?

Pat Trudeau takes aim at negative reaction to the Baskin Robbins closure

Pat Trudeau
Pat Trudeau

This week brought bad news to Peterborough when it was announced that Baskin Robbins, which employs 80 people in their downtown production facility, would be closing this fall putting those 80 people out of work. The news came on the heels of the official word of the PCVS closure and the Federal Government disbanding it’s offices from the 185 King Street location to other offices throughout Peterborough.

The public’s reaction on Twitter was immediate and in some cases downright overly dramatic. The loss of 80 decent paying jobs from Peterborough is horrible news, as are any job losses, however some people are making this out to be the equivalent of the apocalypse, while others are pointing their fingers at the City and asking why they didn’t do more. I saw one tweet that said “PCVS Closing, Federal Building moving and now Baskin Robbins. When will this city step in and do something?!”. Well even though those three things have happened during the same relatively short period of time, they’re completely unrelated and out of the hands of the City. Unfortunately, it’s just a really, really bad run of luck for downtown Peterborough.

Pete Laport, Baskin Robbins’ vice president of global supply chain, was quoted as saying the two reasons for closure were that they couldn’t expand their facility because of the constraints of their downtown location and that they are following the company’s “asset light” structure that they implemented a decade ago. You see Baskin Robbins has been doing what so many other companies have been doing to save money and that’s move their production from in house to third parties. It increases their profits and reduces their overhead.

So really the only thing the city could have done differently is not allow Baskin Robbins to open a production facility in the downtown core all those years ago and hoped that they would have moved into the industrial park where expansion would be feasible. That’s it. The city isn’t going to shut down downtown streets to accommodate expansion. Just look at the headaches and concerns that were raised over the closing of Erskine for the Minute Maid expansion. Which brings me to another point. Minute Maid was allowed to build their production facility in an retail location years ago and when their future came to expand or move to the US, the city buckled and allowed the expansion which resulted in the closure of Erskine. Now we have a large production facility smack dab in the middle of an area filled mostly with residential and retail. Let’s be real here and admit that there have been some downfalls in generations past when it comes to the City’s planning of property use for industry.

Now if you look at Baskin Robbin’s business record for the last ten years and take into consideration that the Peterborough plant was the last company-run production facility in all of North America, you’d admit that the writing was on the wall. Laport admitted that closing the plant will cost millions of dollars but those dollars will be gone along with the 2012 financials at the end of the year. Their reason for closure is the $4-$5 million that they’ll save by outsourcing the production annually. That ladies and gentlemen is not something that the City of Peterborough could have overcome.

So to those people saying the city is bleeding, take a look at the rest of the world. Cities in Canada and around the world don’t have downtown cores known for their middle income manufacturing jobs. They’re known for their restaurants, attractions, theatres and shops because that’s what downtown cores are for. Yep I said it. The one thing the media has avoided. Downtown areas are for culture, not for factories. We’re loosing 80 jobs, 40 of which are unionized, and our unemployment rate is 10%. Yes that’s high to Canadian standards but ask the 1 in 4 people out of work in Spain or Greece what they think of the Peterborough job market and I doubt you’ll get much sympathy. We need to realize that the middle income job is a thing of the past. There’s no one to blame for that except for greedy companies interested in growing their already massive profits. There’s also a belief that government can waive a magic wand and create jobs, great paying jobs, and that is just not true. Companies, businesses, industries, create jobs and they don’t care about the Canadian way of life. They care about their bottom line and they’re willing to do whatever they need to in order to grow that bottom line, including outsourcing their production to third parties or countries that offer cheap labour.

Our city is filled with incredibly hard working people trying to make things better and if you doubt for a minute that there isn’t work being done to bring new industry and companies to Peterborough, go visit the Chamber of Commerce or the Greater Peterborough and Area Economic Development Corporation to see what they’re up to. I think you might be surprised.

Folks, we’re living in a world that is melting down around us. Spain’s unemployment rate is hovering between 24-25% right now, the U.S. is in debt to China for a trillion dollars, there’s civil war in Syria and Libya, banks are filing for bankruptcy, etc. I’m not saying we don’t have legitimate concerns but we need to keep some perspective. While all these horrible things are happening around the world we’re complaining about the price of gas.

Here’s my hope for anyone displaced in Peterborough by the Baskin Robbins closure. I hope you find new, well paid positions elsewhere and I hope those places are in Peterborough. I also hope that the city of Peterborough takes the opportunity to use the property that Baskin Robbins is on to improve the culture of the downtown core and not erect a casino. If you still think that downtown is bleeding stop into any number of the incredible shops, cafes and restaurants in our core. Go to Silver Bean Cafe, Tango Women’s Wear, Natas Cafe, Green Eyewear, Rare Grill House or Hot Belly Mama’s and ask if they’re bleeding. We have incredible, diverse and successful businesses operating in the downtown core which help to make our town beautiful and vibrant. A factory doesn’t do that.