Living in a sprocketless world

There's something sadly symbolic about the looming closure of the Data Group plant in Brockville. The plant makes stock tab computer paper, the kind with holes in the margins that go on those old printer sprockets, as well as cash register rolls.

Computer printers with sprockets. Kind of sounds as obsolete as the old pre-globalization and early-globalization manufacturing model under which Brockville thrived, the disappearance of which has created the economic mess we are in right now. ("It is sad to watch Brockville circle the drain," one of the commenters under the story remarks.)

The parallel is obvious: obsolete product; obsolete city.

It is also more than a little too simple.

The Data Group closing won't be the last one to hit Brockville, and as the city transforms under a new economic model, it likely won't be a Fortune 500 town again.

But there will be something here. What that will be will depend on what is possible.

It will also depend on the vision of our civic leaders and our key economic players: on what they make of the possible, and what they can make possible.

It's worth noting, too, that if the upscale waterfront condo projects the city is betting on do succeed, they will bring in affluent people, perhaps younger retirees, some of whom may have exprience, ideas and capital of their own. That's a good thing to have in an economy struggling to revive itself. It will be up to us to seize the opportunity.

The transformation will, however, be slower than we like. And because of that slow pace, and the further job losses that will inevitably ensue, there will continue to be talk about circling the drain.

In the meantime, it's not the obsolete, sprocket-driven products we should worry about. It's the obsolete people.

The Data Group employees about to lose their jobs tend to be long-term workers, people in middle age whose skills likely need readjusting if they are to find new jobs.

This is a wider societal problem than the local economy. We will prove the worth of our society by our ability to help obsolete workers no longer be obsolete.