The New York Times has just run a feature story describing the pending closure of the General Electric plant in Peterborough and the city’s economic challenges and successes.
The January 21st story, entitled This City Once Made Much of What Canada Bought. But No More., juxtaposes the pending closure against the Trump administration’s claim that Canada and Mexico have benefitted more from free trade than the United States.
“But the idea that Canada has prospered at America’s expense is a tough sell in Peterborough, a city northeast of Toronto,” writes Ian Austen, a Windsor native who now lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for more than a decade.
The story includes photos of Peterborough — the Quaker Oats plant, Peterborough mayor Daryl Bennett, The Canadian Canoe Museum, and more — taken by Toronto photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim.
“This year General Electric, which employed about 6,000 people here at its peak, will add its name to the long list of manufacturers that have left town,” Austen writes. “The shutdown, which the company attributes to a 60 percent drop in demand over four years for the factory’s products, will end the corporation’s 126-year history in Peterborough.”
The article quotes Unifor union local Bill Corp, who has worked for GE for 35 years and attributes the plant closure to the impact of free trade under Nafta.
“They said it was going to be great,” Corp says in the story. “If this is great, then maybe nothing would be better.”
Austen then describes Peterborough as a city that “doesn’t fit the image of a down-at-the-heels Rust Belt town”, and goes on to mention Peterborough’s attractions including the Trent canal, the Peterborough Lift Lock, and Trent University, and notes that Peterborough is growing.
However, he also points out old factory sites in the city, including the Westclox clock factory (now the Time Square building) as well as the Outboard Marine Canada plant (now the location of the existing Canadian Canoe Museum).
Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett is also quoted in the story, pointing out that the local shift away from large-scale manufacturing predated free trade.
The article goes on to quote Corp wondering where older GE employees are going to find work once the plant stops operations.
“They’re in their mid 40s, mid 50s, and they’ve been tradesmen their whole lives,” Corp says in the story, adding that they are unlikely to find jobs that have the pay or benefits offered by GE.
Austen does point out that some industry continues to thrive in Peterborough, using the example of Peterboro Matboards. Previously Peterboro Cardboards Limited, the company was sold in 2001 and revitalized by the new owner, Alan Yaffe. The company now employs 34 people.
Yaffe tells Austen that, whenever Peterboro Matboards advertises a job, around 100 people apply with a couple of days.
“Peterborough’s got a good work force, there’s no question of that,” Yaffe tells Austen. “There’s just not places for those people to work. It’s crazy what’s going on here.”
It should be noted that Austen doesn’t mention the plans for the new $24-million Canadian Canoe Museum at the Peterborough Lift Lock, the planned new casino, the new Peterborough Library opening at the end of January, the VentureNorth building in downtown Peterborough, development of lands at Trent University, and other economic development activities under way in the area.
Read the full story on The New York Times website.