Sunday, September 25, 2011

A different outcome, in a different kind of company town

This post a few weeks ago told of the demise of a company town in Nevada, one based on mining. Today's New York Times features a more positive story about a company town, this one Warroad, Minnesota, where Marvin Windows and Doors, a privately held company, dominates the economy. George Marvin founded the company here in 1904, and it employs about 4,300 people total, about 2,000 of them in Warroad. That's pretty remarkable when you consider that the town's population is only 1,621. Journalist Andrew Martin calls Marvin a "throwback to another era," and it is in several senses. One is that the company has managed not to lay off any workers during the economic downturn, in which new home construction has been especially hard hit. Instead, Marvin has cut back on employee hours and employee profit-sharing--including among the 16 Marvin family members who work for the company. Here's an excerpt from Martin's story:
What’s more, Marvin takes an old-fashioned, even paternal view of its role here in Warroad, where the Marvin family has run things for just about as long as anyone can remember. The company has cut employees’ pay and reduced perks like tuition reimbursement and 401(k) matching.
To further illustrate the company's relationship to the town, the story explains that "Marvin employees get the first Monday of November off for “Deer Monday,” so they can go hunting. ... [O]n the Fourth of July the company hands out two nickels to children in town, as George Marvin did during the Depression."
Susan Marvin, granddaughter of the company's founder and its current President explains the company's decision not to lay off workers:
While it’s challenging for our people right now, and not everybody understands all the reasons why, the alternatives are devastating. These people would have to pick up and leave.
Indeed, she notes that some employees have left--some to take jobs in the booming oil fields of North Dakota. Others are working multiple jobs.

But Marvin's actions may not be entirely altruistic. Susan Marvin explains that she sees the company as situating itself to benefit in the long term, by retaining its investment in its employees.

1 comment:

oceguera said...

It's good to hear stories about company towns that are still functioning. However, in an ever evolving global economy,being solely dependent on one industry is unfortunately an ill-advised decision. There are some obvious factors that lie outside of the local communities' control, e.g. no business investments or federal subsidies for existing local business. For a business that makes windows and doors for homes, it seems to be riding out the foreclosure explosion with a few hiccups. It sounds like this business is placing more value in their workers than their profits despite that many job perks have been cut. At the very least job security is something this community can promote.