Dysmey Post Archive > Pages for 2004 > The Fall of Thomson Edition

The Fall of Thomson Edition

the closure

On St. Patrick's Day the biggest factory in Marion, on its south side, abruptly closed. I'll let the local paper, the Chronicle-Tribune, speak about this:

It is over.

After months of downsizing and economic decline, Thomson permanently stopped all production at its South Marion plant Tuesday afternoon.

Almost 1,000 workers lost their jobs.

The shutdown, announced to workers in a 15-minute meeting at 3 p.m., was abrupt.

It was not unexpected.

"Business conditions are pretty bad," [a] spokesman at Thomson's American headquarters in Carmel, said late Tuesday afternoon.

Both workers and managers expected the closure for a long time, but its curt arrival was a shock to them all.

That hugh factory on the south side of Marion made cathode-ray tubes for television sets. It started life as an RCA factory back when there was an RCA. The factory was a linchpin of the south side of Marion, and the people who worked there did very well.

Then came competition from the Japanese in the late 1970's. Then things got worse when the locus of manufacture shifted from Japan to lands of cheaper labor like Mexico and China. Finally came the popularity of flat-panel and projection television sets.

And all this time the work force at the plant shrank and shrank. The factory used to employ thousands of people. By the time permanent closure came on St. Pat's Day there were only 990 people left.

marion in pain

The closure was a kick in the teeth of Marion. Marion is already decrepit with abandoned factories, ancient and empty buildings in its business district, and burger-flipping jobs for its largely ill-educated people. Two out of three working-age citizens either have only high-school diplomas or dropped out before getting one.

Marion expects Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) and Marion General Hospital (MGH) to carry the load in its post-industrial age. Such expectation is hope as the Greeks saw it—a delusion, a spite let out of Pandora's Jar with all the other ills of humankind.

Muncie has bigger institutions in Ball State University (BSU) and Ball Memorial Hospital (BMH). But their chief sources of revenues (state funding and student tuition for BSU, health insurance payments for BMH, the federal government for both) have futures as solid as sand. And, while Muncie is putting forth a mightier struggle than Marion in improving itself, it's in almost as bad a state.

Indiana Wesleyan and Marion General are as Ball State and Ball Memorial as far as revenues, except that IWU gets no government funding. And the Marion institutions are smaller, even with their expansions. No: IWU and MGH just can't carry the burden that Marion wants of them.

Marion certainly can't hope that the more prosperous Gas City will pick up the slack, either. The jobs in Gas City are the light-industrial kind that don't pay as much as Thomson did. Besides, those jobs go to Gas City workers first.

Then there's retraining of the unemployed, both from Thomson and from elsewhere. That in itself is a good thing, but if there are no jobs available after retraining, it is futile. Worse, some of the jobs for which people traditionally retrain—such as accounting, radiology and information systems—are being outsourced, too.

I wish I could bring up more sympathy for Marion itself. But the city should have seen this coming. The glaring symbol of the shell of a failed motel on the city's interchange with I-69, which sat for over twenty years before the city torn it down, was nothing compared to the city council that bickered with each other and with whatever mayor was in office during the 1990's. While mayor and council bickered, Marion decayed as Gas City and even Fairmount prospered.

IMHO Marion will be in a better state of mind, if it faces the fact that most of the laid-off workers, both from Thomson and from other recently closed factories, are going to leave. They will leave because there is no work in Marion—that pays a living wage, at least. They will leave as General Tire, Ball Foster, Active Products, United Technologies, and Star Financial left. They will leave because there is no future for them in Marion.

An ex-worker from Thomson wrote to the Fairmount paper suggesting that Marion's current mayor tear down all the abandoned factories, downtown buildings and houses and see if there is anything of Marion left. That's not a bad idea: There's nothing uglier than a forsaken building, and Marion does need the facelift.

Marion almost reached 40,000 people during the 1980 census. Do not be surprised if the 2010 Census will find Marion to have 20,000 people—or even fewer.

and Thomson?

Thomson itself now has just its headquarters at Carmel-By-The-Road.

The Marion closure has no doubt brought up angry memories of past factory closings at Bloomington and Indianapolis.

The only remaining public symbol of Thomson (apart from its headquarters) left in Indiana is the RCA Dome. Thomson bought the naming rights in 1994 on what I think is a ten-year contract. If that's true, the contract expires this year.

Thomson has little economic influence and a lot of public antipathy in Indiana. Therefore, it's almost a sure thing that both Indiana and Indianapolis will not let Thomson renew the naming contract. That's good: The stadium has always been the Hoosier Dome (its old name) to me, anyway.

Copyright © 2004 by Andy West. All rights reserved. Written on 24 March 2004.