It is incumbent on whomever Toledoans elect their next mayor to salvage at least some of the jobs now on the cutting board at the General Mills Big G cereal plant on Laskey Road. Unfortunately for the Toledo area, salvaging a few jobs is the more likely scenario, considering why the plant is closing and who intends to buy it.
The plain fact is the Laskey Road plant, which makes Cheerios and is one of the largest cereal-making facilities in the world, happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for its company's strategic planning. General Mills is getting its ducks in a row for federal regulators to approve its pending $6.1 billion purchase of Pillsbury Co.
Because its Cheerios factory is adjacent to the Betty Crocker plant, which will soon be owned by an industry competitor, General Mills thought it wise to divest itself of its Toledo plant to avoid any appearance of overlapping operations. Not much comfort to the 460 people who stand to lose their jobs.
General Mills isn't pulling out of its Laskey Road plant because business is bad - it reported sales of cereal, desserts, and other food products in its latest fiscal year of $7.1 billion. It is simply changing its manufacturing venue to gain points with the Federal Trade Commission on its Pillsbury arrangement.
International Multifoods Corp. plans to move into the Betty Crocker baking-mix plant to make and market the Pillsbury line of desserts and specialty products it bought along with other businesses. It also plans to buy the nearby cereal plant and maybe use it as a warehouse and distribution area. That would employ some workers but not nearly the number needed to operate a factory.
The loss of so many good-paying manufacturing jobs is keenly felt any time, but especially now when the economy is slumping and replacement jobs of comparable worth are increasingly difficult to obtain. Many workers forgo advanced education to jump at factory jobs paying $20 to $25 an hour. But when plants suddenly close, the hardest hit are often the unskilled and uneducated employees who have few lucrative options available to retain their comfortable standard of living.
While it is truly lamentable that Toledo is losing its manufacturing association with one of its best-known national products, it was perhaps inevitable in the pervasive climate of business mergers and acquisitions. Political leaders may not be able to blunt the downsizing that comes as a result of corporate expansion or contraction, but they can and should be pro-active in economic development.
Aggressive, ongoing pursuit of new businesses and new job opportunities to the area is the only insurance the region has against an unpredictable marketplace where change is the only constant.
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