POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Making it in Massachusetts

by David Trumbull

May 15, 2009

“Reinvented Lawrence Has Bright Future” was the headline of a recent story in the Boston Herald that tried to put an optimistic spin on prospects for that down and out city. One sentence in the article explains everything “the global economic crisis pales in comparison to the suffering bestowed by the flight of the manufacturing industry.”

In the second half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries Lawrence was a textile mill town—specifically a worsted wool mill town. According to the book Lawrence, Massachusetts (Acadia Publishing, 1995) with worsted’s growth in popularity and the building of the huge Wood and Ayer Mills in the early 1900s, it wasn’t long until Lawrence became the woolen and worsted center of the world. Even children were proud of that distinction; “We Weave he World's Worsted” became a familiar phrase in schools around the city. The nearby Merrimack River Valley mill town of Lowell, Mass. was the place where cotton was “king.” Fall River and New Bedford also had many mills, as did the many towns of the Blackstone River Valley.

The mill buildings remain, but no worsted cloth is produced in Lawrence today. Polartec (formerly Malden Mills) is, I believe, the only textile company remaining in that city, and it is much smaller than it was just a few years ago and has sent a significant part of its production off-shore. The story is the same everywhere, when the mills closed manufacturing jobs were not replaced with other jobs that paid as well. Loss of wealth-generating manufacturing jobs was followed by decline in the general economy.

Nothing is going to turn around Lawrence (or the hundreds of other American towns and cities that are dying) unless we create jobs, and we won't create jobs until we abandon the policy of the last 25 years of exporting jobs and living off borowed money. Unfortunately, President Obama, who as candidate was critical of NAFTA which his Democratic predecessor Clinton signed, now says that the answer is more NAFTA-like agreements and has already identified three more he wants Congress to pass this year.

All is not bleak though. Massachusetts got some good news recently when Canadian textile manufacturer Victor bought a closed textile mill in Fall River and announced that they were putting it back into production of upholstery fabrics and men’s suit fabrics. It’ll return a few jobs to that city. As I’ve said before, the best economic stimulus is a job.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]