July 31, 2017

For most houses, you don't raise all of the walls at once. You also don't lay the foundation in one single hour. It takes time. Every brick contributes to the structure, every nail or coat of paint brings it one step closer to completion. It's the same with new jobs.

Many of the new companies moving into Henry County are advanced manufacturing firms. That means many of the processes are automated and they bring in 20 to 30 jobs, rather than the 100 to 200 if this were 30 years ago. As a result, some local residents don't see the benefit. Whenever a new industry or an industry expansion is announced in Martinsville and Henry County, we often hear variations on the same comment:

“Just 20 jobs? Wake me when a company announces a few hundred.”

It’s an understandable impulse. It has not been long, in the grand scheme of things, since local manufacturers required hundreds upon hundreds of employees. Many wish those days would return.

For the sake of argument, imagine the following hypothetical situation: Imagine that one day, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation announced that after three solid years of hard work, it had landed a major manufacturer for Henry County, and that manufacturer was going to be hiring 1,200 employees.

Many area residents would probably be thrilled. After all, 1,200 new jobs is a lot and a massive boost to the local economy. For everyone who thinks that hypothetical situation is just a wild fantasy, we offer some good news: In a very real sense, it’s reality.

At Tuesday’s Henry County Board of Supervisors meeting, EDC President and CEO Mark Heath announced that between July 1, 2014 and June 30 of this year, 18 economic development announcements took place in Henry County, of which five were new industries and 13 were expansions of existing industries. Those 18 announcements resulted in 1,196 new jobs in Henry County over three years, Heath said, and a total annual payroll of $30,603,382.

These announcements represent new companies, such as Hardide Coatings, Starsprings and Novatech, as well as expansions of established county stalwarts like Monogram Meat Snacks, Drake Extrusion, Solid Stone Fabrics, Eastman Chemical and plenty of others. Some of these companies hired 300 additional employees. Some hired just five. But when taken together, they represent a massive investment in our community.

When 18 companies create 1,200 jobs openings, is that just as good as one company creating 1,200 job openings?

No; it’s even better.

The problem with having just one company employ a massive number of employees is that all of those employees’ fates are inextricably tied to the fate of the company. In this current economy, the old warning against putting all of one’s eggs in one basket has never been more accurate.

Anyone old enough to have been working in the area during the 1990s and early 2000s well remembers just how disastrous it can be when one company folds and a thousand people are unwillingly thrust back into the job hunt. Our area certainly doesn’t need to experience that trauma again.

But when that same number of jobs is spread across nearly 20 different companies, it lessens the blow should one company shutter its doors.

The next time a company announces an expansion that will add 20 employees, we would do well to celebrate rather than shake our heads and wish for more.

Much like the old Johnny Cash song, we’re not buying this Cadillac all at once; we’re building it one piece at a time.

The Bulletin Editorial Board consists of Brian Carlton, Ben Williams and Trisha Long