Taken on its own, word last week that Abitibi-Consolidated is cutting its salaried staff at the mill here by about 10 positions over the coming year, and not replacing them, was not earth-shattering news.
The same holds true with the news that both Bob Jeffery and Ken Allan are leaving their jobs at the Northwestern Health Unit here. It isn’t known yet if they’ll be replaced, or if so, whether their replacements will be based in Fort Frances.
But couple these two developments with the fact the local public school board is looking to close three elementary schools (perhaps costing teacher jobs, staff jobs, custodians, and maybe even bus drivers), as well as the impending closure of the Fort Frances Jail in 2004, and a trend is disturbingly clear.
Fort Frances and area is losing high-paying jobs that probably won’t be replaced.
In the case of the Abitibi-Consolidated cuts, the effect may not be felt right away as most of those who were given the “golden handshake” (i.e., being paid not to work) will stay in the area. But down the road, this will mean 10 families who don’t relocate to Fort Frances, or 10 families who move away for promotions elsewhere in the company.
Over at the health unit, the numbers may be smaller but the effect will be more immediate. And the bottom line is the same—fewer families living in Fort Frances and the surrounding area.
That, in turn, means less consumer spending, a smaller tax base, and fewer kids going to school. Which may mean even more job losses down the road, which means still less consumer spending, smaller tax base, and fewer kids.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Add in the potential school board job losses and the roughly three dozen workers at the jail (not to mention fears the courthouse here may be on the chopping block some day), and the picture is downright gloomy.
Protecting our tourist industry, in the wake of new regulations and the aftermath of Sept. 11, is another crucial part of the equation.
True, there have been efforts to improve our infrastructure to attract new businesses, and the town is working in partnership with others to land a remand centre or youth detention facility to replace the jail. There’s also no question the first-class educational, health, recreation, and arts facilities our community now sports compared to five years ago are crucial to luring people to live here.
But clearly we cannot rest on our laurels. The writing is on the wall, and things will only get worse unless we find a solution—now.