In the boom-and-bust energy business, layoffs are imminent. The Oct. 1 layoff of 150 workers by the Oxbow Mining Company wasn't a big surprise to most.
It's happened before, it will happen again.
While it may be some time before those effects are fully realized, there are already impacts of the layoffs. Aside from the usual chatter, the Paonia Message Board Facebook page addressed to "Oxbow X Employees," listed an opportunity for underground miners ("must be willing to travel"), and a request from a Denver Post reporter, looking to interview laid-off miners.
But what can the community expect?
Earlana Sims of Paonia recalled the Somerset mine closure in 1985. There were rumors for months of impending layoffs, said Sims, because the mine couldn't sell its high-quality bituminous coal. Fires in the early 1980s had forced the closure of the Westmoreland (Orchard Valley Coal) and Hawk's Nest mines, and neither mine ever re-opened. Sims and husband Ron had taken a trip to Virginia for the holidays, and upon arriving home on New Year's Eve, learned of the closing.
"It hit pretty hard," said Sims. Several workers found jobs in Rangely, some took their families, "And some stayed there." Sims said her youngest daughter, Leslie, was in seventh grade. When school started that fall, there were 75 students in her class. By graduation, there were 43.
How the layoffs will affect student enrollment is uncertain. Paonia High School principal Randal Palmer said he hadn't heard of any students who are leaving because of layoffs. "It's too soon to know," said Palmer. "We're waiting to see."
Even if the school doesn't lose students, "It's not good," said Palmer of the layoffs.
Rick Brodel of Farmer Frank's Shoe Barn and Clothing Company has seen his share of layoffs, including the loss of more than 120 jobs when the Chaco sandal factory in Paonia closed in 2008, the same year the national economy tanked. Farmer Frank's, which celebrated its 50th anniversary of selling clothing, and until about 15 years ago sold hardware, survived the big shutdowns of the 1980s, but several other businesses closed their doors.
Brodel said business has picked up lately, but sales of boots, and in particular the rubber boots coal miners use, has fallen off in recent months. One gentleman bought a pair to ship to his son, who found work in Canada, said Brodel.
"It's gonna hurt business," said Brodel of the loss of jobs, especially if a large number of workers have children. "If they take their families," said Brodel, "it's hard on the area."
There are ways the community can prepare for these times of crisis, said Elaine Brett of the Paonia. Brett spends much of her time thinking of what makes the community strong, and what can make it stronger. She spearheads the Heart & Soul Project, and North Fork Vision 2020, a two-year, grant-funded collaborative effort that, in part, examines what makes for a "diverse and vibrant" economy in the North Fork area.
"If you're in the business, you know layoffs are always looming," said Brett, standing in her sparse Main Street office in Paonia, where the walls are covered with images of the valley and hundreds of public comments written on sticky notes.
The seeds of Heart & Soul were planted in 2009 during a group discussion on what to do when the mines close, said Brett, referring to coal mining as, "A critical part of the historic economy" in the valley. Heart & Soul recently conducted a survey on "what matters most" to the community. The rural, natural environment got the most comments, said Brett. Access to resources for recreation and jobs is a main concern.
And while the economic layoffs of the 1980s were severe, "The dynamics are different today," said Brett. The valley is beginning to see growth in agriculture, tourism, and other areas. Energy, and in particular coal mining, will likely remain a vital resource in the area for many years, said Brett. But the future picture will likely include more renewable sources, including solar and hydroelectric.
Heart & Soul will host a community summit and chamber syposium on Oct. 25-26. On Friday, Oct. 25, it will be at the Paradise Theatre in Paonia at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, Oct. 26, it will be at the Hotchkiss K8 school from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The event will "give people a good visual" of what the survey reveals and, and, added Brett, there will be lots of discussion about the economy.blog comments powered by Disqus