Mason County News
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In My Opinion
Living In A Company Town
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 • Posted August 29, 2012

Up in New England, there are a number of small towns that are, or were, company towns. Whether it was the local paper mill, textile factory or shoe manufacturer, many of the small towns based their existence upon a few companies that were located in their immediate area.

But, that's not all that makes a community a company town.

Over time, the community starts to place its entire existence, its survival, into the hands of the company. When the company prospers, they hire more of the townspeople, they donate to local charities. Everyone benefits.

But, in New England, many of the company towns experienced problems. The textile industries moved - first south, then overseas. The shoe companies moved to Asia. Paper mills became more and more automated, so even though they stayed in the town, they laid off most of the employees.

As you travel through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, you will see town after town with abandoned factory buildings. Many of the communities tried to convert the abandoned structures into something more relevant to the economy of the times. They created office space, apartments or storefronts; but, they were for office employees that weren't necessary, for apartment dwellers that had moved elsewhere, and for shoppers that no longer had money to spend.

New England is not the only place that had company towns. Throughout the south, there were poultry producers, tobacco growers, cotton farms.... In the north, there were steel mills, coal mines and auto producers. In the west, there were cattle ranches, industrial farms and oil fields.

Through the decades, the company towns have started to become an anachronism. As small burgs found new ways to diversify their local economies, the undisputed importance of only one business to the continuation of a town became an intolerable situation for most people.

Mason has never really been a company town. True enough, we have had our dependence upon cattle, sheep, goats, peanuts... but, we had most of them running at the same time. As some of those markets dropped away, we were resourceful enough to discover other options. We developed a hunting industry, and we bolstered our tourism businesses. We found ways to distribute our sources of revenue so that, when the inevitable bad times arrived, we had something else to rely upon for our living.

And now, we really only have a small handful of those industries. We've added some jobs from the mining operations; but, those companies are also subject to the variations of the markets. Tourism and hunting rely upon the disposable income of others, and in bad times, they don't have that extra money to spend.

Though we know we need to have as many diverse choices as possible, we are also stressed to discover additional options. We have limited transportation options, limited natural resources for industry, and a limited pool of skilled labor. Which means we have to be even more creative in devising and utilizing the options we do have.

In the years ahead, as we discover the opportunities we do have, we need to be careful not to lock ourselves into areas that require a complete and total dependence upon them in order to be successful. When the paper mills built on the east side of the river in Berlin, New Hampshire, it replaced the dairy farms and small quarries that had been there. The townspeople were left with few options for jobs, so they went to work at the mill.

And that's exactly where we find ourselves now. We have to decide what types of opportunities we can exploit that won't push out the other options we might enjoy, or may need to rely upon in tough times. And, we need to encourage as much diversity as we can so that we will have as many choices as possible in the future.

Mason's never really been considered a company town; but, it has been considered a strong community. And, that is a strength we will need to develop, no matter what choices we make.

It’s all just my opinion.

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