Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not Made in London, Ontario

There is a big move to make London Ontario a more successful community, a better place to live. The folks behind the push think of themselves as forward thinking but, in a certain sense, they are talking about bringing back the past. (Not that that is always a bad thing.)

I have written about some of the large and small companies that flourished in London in the past and which have either been bought and closed or bought and folded into a larger company. Over the years many businesses and many jobs have left the city, many have left Canada. (For more info, see: The Forest City: A rich past of fading memories)

One of the companies I mentioned was McClary appliances. Born in London around the 1850s, it grew into a major Canadian supplier of home appliances. Today it has departed the town of its birth. Its memory has faded. Its London plant has been demolished.

Last night I was in an appliance store and checked where the appliances, Inglis and Amanda, were made. It was a short but interesting read. Inglis is a bit like McClary.

According to Wikipedia, the Inglis name originated with John Inglis of Dundas, Ontario. The machine shop he opened with Thomas Mair in Guelph, Ontario, in 1859 grew into the company that made the engines for the Canada Steamship Lines. By the mid 1960s, Inglis was the leading producer of Canadian-built laundry machines. Inglis, like McClary, was a long running Canadian success story.

Today the Inglis name is still on the marquee but the show is over, closed by the Whirlpool Corporation of Benton Harbour, Michigan. The large Inglis complex in Toronto has been demolished and the land is being redeveloped as housing and commercial space. The appliances I examined may have carried the Inglis and Amana names but both brands are controlled by Whirlpool and made in Mexico, Shunde PRC or assembled in the United States. There's no mention of Canada.

If alarm bells are not ringing in your head, let me clue you in and then please watch the following video. Benton Harbour, the Michigan town Whirlpool Corporation calls home, the town mentioned on the manufacturer i.d. plates on the appliances I examined, is a town famous for being an ongoing economic disaster. Benton Harbour suffered an urban collapse possibly worse than that suffered by Detroit. Years ago The London Free Press sent a reporter and a photographer to Benton Harbour to document the town's economic collapse and to determine if London could learn from the small Michigan town's experience.

If you have the time, please watch the following video.

In London, the conversation has turned to making London a creative city. What is being ignored is that London was once, and not that long ago, a creative city.

McClary, Labatt, Blackburn, Carling, Jarmain . . .  all are part of a long list of creative, successful Londoners. These creative types brought wealth not only to themselves but to their city.

The McCormick cookie and candy plant sits closed, empty.
There are a couple of names that are not on the list despite being two very creative guys who have made a big impact on London. These men are Marc Leder and Rodger Krouse, the founders of Sun Capital Partners, a private equity firm that has bought and closed three London plants in just four years. Following from The London Free Press and The Tribune:

  • In 2007, Sun Capital Partners closed McCormicks the cookie and candy factory on Dundas St. E. in London, cutting 275 jobs, denying workers severance, vacation pay and pensions.
  • McCormicks workers fight two years in court to win vacation pay and have to pay their legal bills from the winnings.
  • One 48-year employee now earns a pension of $300 a month.
  • In 2008, Sun Capital Partners closed closed H.J. Jones in London while denying severance. Employees had to fight to get a deal paying them half of what they were owed.
  • In 2008, Sun Capital Partners was involved in the closing of the CanGro Foods in St. Davids, an Ontario canning plant and the last remaining fruit canning plant in all of North America east of the Rockies. The plant had been in operation for more than 100 years.
  • In 2008, Sun Capital Partners was involved in the closing of the CanGro Foods canning plant in Exeter, Ontario. The closing of the two canning opertions resulted in the loss of 268 hourly and 27 salaried positions as well as all seasonal positions.
  • In 2011, Sun Capital Partners closed closed Specialized Packaging Group in London. Talks are to begin on determining severance packages.
Attracting the attention of these two creative fellows may not have benefited London or London workers but somewhere there must be a creative city, a dominant spike of prosperity, benefiting from Sun Capital Partners. Who knows, maybe it's Boca Raton, Florida.

Sun Capital Partners founder Marc Leder's 15,000 sq. ft. home in Boca Raton, Florida.
When Lisa Leder filed for divorce she claimed her husband, Marc, was worth more than $400 million. He denied the figure, offering his wife a settlement of more than $100 million.

The couple agreed they enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle with a 15,000-square-foot home near Boca Raton, a vacation retreat in Stowe, Vt. and six vehicles including an Aston Martin DB9 convertible, a Bentley Continental convertible, a Cadillac Escalade and a Lexus LS. They traveled by private jet.

Well, Lisa enjoyed it. Marc worked. In court papers she claimed she had been essentially a single parent as her husband devoted long hours to his business.

For more about Sun Capital Partners and the two gentlemen behind it, read the New York Times story: In a Romney Believer, Private Equity's Risks and Rewards

And for an update to the McCormick factory story, please read: Imported candies marketed as Canadian.

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