Losing manufacturing has been about more than losing jobs

This post is short and to the point. Technically it’s an add-on to my last one — yet another thought from the logjam of posts clogging my mind as I try to slow it down a little.

It was one of those random thoughts that came out of nowhere. I had public radio playing in the background last Thursday and was unexpectedly drawn in by a call-in show about the history of shoemaking in Maine.

The show included a panel of representatives from the industry currently who were fascinating in their ability to link shoe manufacturing in Maine today to the industry’s former storied economic presence. The most compelling part, though, was the contribution from callers, who prompted my thought.

I pretty much figured I had analyzed the loss of manufacturing in Maine from every angle. I’d contemplated manufacturing as an economic safety net and manufacturing wages as a bolster to the value of all workers in Maine. Somewhere I have some text about Maine’s communities needing hope in the wake of all the job losses.

But listening to the callers the other day, I realized I had missed a simple, but perhaps the most important point: pride. Mainers made quality products that made them proud of their work and proud of their means to provide for their loved ones.

I loved hearing people talk with great pride about their family’s connection to this company or that company. Callers spoke with that great pride about their individual community’s connections to its correlative shoemaking employer. Readers of a certain age will remember when Bass Shoe was all the rage, and how the Mainers who crafted those shoes took great pride in knowing their handiwork was in high demand in places far away from here.

Those callers reminded me of a friend who has a quilt his grandmother made from Healthtex fabric scraps. When he shows the quilt off, he talks with pride about his grandmother working at the Healthtex textile mill and about her taking the scraps home to make things for her family.

The quilt is like a celebration of every tee shirt American kids wore in the 1970’s, a celebration of a matriarch’s hard work and love for her family, a celebration of family pride.

Manufacturing made individuals proud, which made their communities proud.

The paper mill is seen in Millinocket in this 1994 file photo. Photo by Mike York BDN.

I had the good fortune to interview some of the team at Our Katadhin a while back, and I remember how Sean DeWitt and Mike Faloon spoke with such pride about their childhoods and their education back in the day in the Millinocket region. People who are proud of their work build proud communities with strong schools to educate the next generation of proud community members.

Right now, you don’t have to look far to see the opposite of pride. Our poor school districts can barely afford to educate children. There’s our addiction epidemic and overflowing jails, our citizens missing from the workforce and our underpaid workers. The data representing the opposite of pride is everywhere.

We’re lucky to have regions and communities and industries that continue to carry Maine’s sense of pride in the work its citizens do and the places they live.

The challenge in the wake of all our manufacturing job losses, though, is how to bring that pride back to all of Maine’s citizens and communities.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.