Thursday, 21 November 2013

Leamington will survive, Heinz or no Heinz

Leamington, Ontario is not the sort of town to make the headlines. It’s not a town with high-crime rates, environmental catastrophes or anything else the news deems almost exclusively worthwhile to report. Heck, it doesn’t even have a buffoonish mayor being lampooned on U.S. television networks. No, Leamington is a different kind of place. It’s a town synonymous with a beloved vegetable: the tomato. And it’s the tomato that’s mixed up in the media’s recent interest with Leamington.

The town’s succulent tomatoes and skilled farmers drew the Heinz Company to Leamington more than 100 years ago. The company has had a plant there ever since – using Leamington tomatoes to help produce its iconic ketchup. The plant is Leamington’s largest employer and the company has announced that in June of 2014, the Heinz Co. processing plant will be closing. 740 people will lose their jobs.

In a town dependent on selling its tomatoes, the closing of the plant does not just cost people their jobs, it stands to inflict a deep psychic wound on the people of Leamington. In a town where generations of farmers and employees have been connected to the Heinz plant, many will be left wondering what to do now that their traditions are threatened.

Last February, Berkshire Hathaway, headed by famed billionaire Warren Buffet, and 3G Capital bought Heinz for $28 billion. And now, less than a year later, plants are being closed and workers are losing their jobs. It has been estimated by at least one local farmer that Heinz buys roughly 40% of Ontario’s tomatoes. The loss of such a massive buyer for their produce could threaten both the livelihoods and way of life of Leamington’s farmers.

By all accounts, Warren Buffet doesn’t have to worry about how he’ll afford to retire. He doesn’t have to worry about how he’ll feed his family. The Leamington plant is an economic decision for Berkshire Hathaway, allowing it to make cold, surgical cuts to jobs. But the jobs at the plant are more valuable than Berkshire Hathaway or 3G Capital seem to understand. They're not simply jobs. They are part of the heart of an Ontario town. With Heinz being the largest municipal taxpayer in Leamington, the whole community will suffer the effects of this closure.

Though not ideal, Leamington will weather the plant closure. The people of Leamington aren’t alone. They’re in this together as a community. And that’s exactly what will see them through these times. And they will weather this storm. Their fundamentals are strong enough - the soil is still productive, the farmers are still skilled and the world will still be hungry for nutritious produce tomorrow.[1] Tomorrow is the promise of a better day for Leamington, a greater promise than any single company could ever provide.  

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