Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another Manufacturer Goes "Up-In-Smoke!"


Like the cranes that once towered over the shipyards property, another "pinnacle" of the area's industrial history in poised to come down. The smokestack at Kaufman Furniture is about all that remains of this once proud manufacturing entity that produced world renown high quality residential and commercial furniture.
Changes in both the domestic and global economy have changed the manufacturing landscape everywhere not only economically, but physically as this picture depicts. Domestic North American manufacturers typcially engaged in what was often referred to as "smokestack" industries such as the production of steel, paper, rubber and other commodity products have fallen victim to lower wage based economies like China and India. This shift in highly labour intensive commodity manufacturing is forcing Canada and other higher wage based countries to refocus and re-deploy their workforces in industries where technical and intellectual expertise supercedes basic "gruntwork" relative the the wages being paid.
With the odd exception, the area's economy has yet to benefit significantly from the shift to knowledge and technology based industries. We have no Research In Motion, Sandvine or Redline Communications all three of which are not located in a major city yet are amongst the 50 fastest-growing Canadian technology companies . Perhaps it's time we did? Perhaps the toppling of the Kaufman smokestack will symbolize the rebirth of industry in Collingwood. An industry not of flying sparks from a shipbuilder's welding torch or sawdust from a cabinet maker's saw, but an industry that will leverage the intellectual knowledge and technical expertise of today's employment pool. Or will the smokestack be replaced by the neon signs of retail outlets like Giant Tiger, Future Shop or that of another venue such as a convention centre?
The demolition of the Kaufman plant including the landmark smokestack signifies more than just the elimination of a building. As in many cities and town's across North America it symbolizes the changing landscape of today's economy and unlike Cheech and Chong's movie "Up In Smoke," this story-line is not very funny.

1 comment:

Todd Wesley Johnson said...

Excellent article Rick, I very much appreciate your concise approach to the
topic.

According to the demolition contractor, the stack is slated to be torn down, unceremoniously as I was told, the week of May 4th.

In addition to manufacturing of residential and commercial furniture, the plant and its employees made a historic contribution to Canada’s WWII effort and to the subsequent
re-furnishing of England’s devastated residential households. Also, the plant was one of the first in Canada to utilize 'modern' furniture manufacturing materials and methods developed in Europe. I thought perhaps the historical society and the Town’s elected leadership might recognize the symbolic and historical significance behind the Kaufman Stack, and the area's industrial past, and attempt to save it for inclusion into the site’s redevelopment. Alas, I suppose they are too occupied with trying to save the horrendous, dilapidated, and in my humble opinion, repugnant facades of the former Tremont Hotel.
Did you see what was accomplished at the former steam plant at the old Wellesley and PrincessMargaret Hospitals and its 61-metre high smokestack?

You are right though, again we tear down another factory; perhaps to throw-up
more condominiums, or another big-box store, even a conference
centre.
Again, we create nothing more than short-term construction employment and more low-wage paying service sector jobs. And lets face it, government policy is does
not favor this region beyond it’s re-branding as a retirement and four seasons
tourist destination. Even that attitude is hard to swallow, considering the lack
of investment in the area’s transportation system which remains, for the most
part, no better then when I family came to Canada after WWII. Sure, they have
paved the roads and installed some lights, but the railroad is gone, and the
airport is in the hands of the municipal taxpayers. Our ‘southern Georgian Bay’
lifestyle is nice, but 21st century businesses, such as the one you cite require
infrastructure: modern roads, rail and air, not to mention institutions of
higher education and affordable housing, adequate medical facilities and
culture.

Funny thing though – Have you read of the conditions in which resource sector
workers in Asia are forced to endure? Seems North America can justify costly
labour to extract its resources, but it cannot justify the labour costs
associated with adding value to the raw resources. If we were truly on the path
towards leveraging our ‘intellectual knowledge and technical expertise,’ would we not take aim at creating more efficient, productive manufacturing methods?
Perhaps this would help re-establish the middle-ground labour class? Perhaps
then we could look toward a policy change at the Provincial level toward the
region as something more than a playground for the rich?

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Rick relocated to Collingwood from Toronto in 1985 through a transfer with Goodyear Canada. In 1987 Rick was recruited by a major client of Goodyear’s, managing their Canadian business based in Barrie before moving to Chicago in 1992 as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. Upon returning to Canada in 1996, Rick ran an industrial products manufacturing company in Stratford, Ontario. In 1998 Rick returned to Collingwood with his two children. Rick is a licensed real estate Broker with Royal LePAGE Locations North in Collingwood and holds his MVA designation (Market Value Appraiser-Residential). He is an active volunteer in the community serving several years on the Board of Directors with the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce as Treasurer, 6 years on the Board of Directors for the Southern Georgian Bay Association of REALTORS® of which he is the Past President (2008) and currently serves on a committee with the Ontario Real Estate Association. Rick is a diverse executive manager with extensive experience in strategic planning, manufacturing, finance, human resources and quality assurance management.