Sunday, November 23, 2008

PAUL's Gotta close his business . . . so what?

By l.t. Dravis

SMALL TOWN, OHIO – Sunday, November 23, 2008 – Even a casual encounter with any of the 27 men and women who work for Moreau’s Machine Works (not the company’s actual name) in Ohio today would tell you that something is seriously wrong. These are good, hardworking Americans, salt of the earth folks who love their country, who love their husbands and wives, who love their children, and who take pride in the quality of the products they produce.

But they don’t smile much these days; that Midwest heart-of-the-country sparkle is gone from their eyes; they don’t stand quite as tall as they used to; and they walk and move not with the innate confidence of people born and raised in America’s heartland, but with the uncertainty of people who are lost.

One month from today, two days before Christmas, Paul Moreau (not his real name) will close the business founded by his father in 1948, a business that in better times not only supported the lives and families of 202 machinists, tool makers, estimators, quality control inspectors, warehousemen, secretaries, and managers but also supported the stores, gas stations, real estate agents, professionals, and the tax base in and around the little Ohio town they call home.

Moreau Machine Works will close its doors forever after it ships the last batch of parts due on the last purchase order from the last of the Big Three suppliers on the third Tuesday in December.

And 27 families will celebrate Christmas this year against the backdrop of economic uncertainty that promises not only to dampen their holiday spirit but will also dampen their hopes and plans for a happy, prosperous New Year.

Paul has run Moreau Machine Works since his father’s death in the early seventies and, like his father, he’s made it a point to work harder and longer than anyone else, creating a sense of family that contributed to pride of workmanship, maximum productivity, and a ‘never-say-die’ attitude on the part of everyone in the Moreau Machine Works family.

But as the car business goes, so goes Moreau Machine Works and things are not going well.

“At 67, I’m already past retirement age, but I’ve put everything back into the business, so me and my wife, only got Social Security to live on,” says Paul Moreau, Jr., a big man who resembles Harrison Ford, the actor. “We also got a ton of debt to pay and how we’re gonna make it, I don’t know.

“I mean, I never thought American car companies would ever be almost bankrupt. I can’t believe that here, in the greatest country in the world, good people who want to work can’t find good jobs. I mean, who’d have thought this would happen?

“But I’m more worried about the rest of the folks working here because most of ‘em are younger. They’ve got houses to pay for; they got car payments, and kids to raise. They’ve got college tuition to worry about . . . “ Standing in the small parking lot in front of the well maintained, immaculate, twelve thousand square foot single story brick building his family has owned since 1959, Paul sighed, blinked several times, held back an emotional moment, and then continued with, “. . . I, I worry about how they’re gonna make it. There aren’t any other jobs for them to get . . . not here, not in Ohio. They’re gonna have to go on unemployment and they won’t be able to afford the COBRA health deal. I don’t know what they’re gonna do.”

Paul is in personal and corporate debt up to his ears. In the years leading up to the current crash, when SUVs and pickup trucks were selling like hotcakes, when Ford could generate an $18,000.00 profit on a single Excursion, the Big Three and their top tier suppliers pressed Paul to upgrade his equipment to improve quality, to reduce lead times, and to reduce costs. In fact, his contracts to supply machined parts called for price reductions of as much as ten percent a year, every year, for at least three years.

It wasn’t like he had a choice . . . purchasing agents were quite clear about it: Either agree to drop your price by ten percent a year or we’ll deduct the difference from outstanding invoices and cancel our purchase orders . . . in other words, do it our way or go away.

So, Paul did what he had to do. He used up his savings, refinanced his house, and took on thousands of dollars of debt to buy and lease the newest, high-tech computerized control machine tools, expanded his facilities, and upgraded to an electronic energy management system to accommodate the new equipment.

Paul’s wife, Loretta (not her real name), a pretty 65 year old petite lady with big blue eyes and a ready smile, Moreau Machine’s receptionist, payroll maker, and mother figure to just about everyone, held Paul’s hand and said, “It’s like this . . . Paul and I’ve worked hard all our lives so we could hand over a better world not only to our children and grandchildren, but also to our employees and their families. And now, because we’ve elected and re-elected politicians who don’t care, we’re going to hand them a world in much worse shape than when we arrived.

“And, for that, we should all be ashamed.”

Copyright © 2008 by l.t. Dravis. All rights reserved.

If you have questions, comments, or concerns, Email me at (goes right to my desk) and since I personally answer every Email, I look forward to hearing from you soon.



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