What Causes Factories to Die: The benefit of a good work ethic

Something strange occurred while my wife and I were trying to get to the Kings Island Gold Pass preview night last Friday night. Back in my twenties when we lived in Mason I worked at several of the area manufacturing opportunities, but since moving back to Liberty Township, we really only come back to the area to visit the Fields Ertle shopping district, or to go to Kings Island.   But because the traffic was so terrible at Kings Island that night I had to take a bunch of side roads to escape and return home because there was no way of getting into the amusement park because it was obviously saturated with people trying to get in on a beautiful Friday spring night.  That brought me out on Route 42 by the Huston Restaurant then across the street to a little road that would take me back into Liberty Township along the Mitsubishi Plant. It was there that I saw that a large manufacturing plant that I had spent a lot of time in was up for sale, and that shocked me—even through Worthington Custom Plastics had sold off their automotive division way back in 1999.  It was just at that moment 18 years later that I had driven by that building once again—and that place was something I could have never imagined seeing empty.

We were in our late twenties and in need of a lot of money as we were raising children. My wife was homeschooling our children mostly.  They did attend Mason schools back then, but we didn’t like the job they were doing, so she took care of most of the deprogramming as a house wife.  I fully supported that kind of thing, but on the weekends to make extra money we had two Door Store routes that we delivered—which was a kind of coupon newspaper that we delivered door to door.  We’d pick up the papers on Friday night then spend the weekend rolling them into plastic bags which we delivered on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.  That job alone took up most of our weekend together and was a lot of hard work.  But it was an independent way to make the money we needed. But that wasn’t our main income—it was my job at Worthington Custom Plastics that was.  I worked there an astonishing 16 hours per day through the weekdays and every single weekend from 4 PM to midnight.  Most of my work there was on overtime and I worked on the big projects, particularly the Corvette facias which were made completely with injected plastic at that Mason facility.  From there they went to the Bowling Green Corvette manufacturing facility for installation and I sometimes had to go there for quality audits.  I was very busy and I was making a lot of money doing something that was very important—and my wife and I were literally working every minute of our lives on something.  When I hear kids complaining about being overworked these days with a 50 hour work week I look at them like they are social rejects because honestly, we worked much harder and still enjoyed our lives.  So they have nothing to complain about.

The only time that Worthington facility shut down and we turned off the lights was for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All other times of the year that big plant ran all around the clock all week long.  Now I knew what was coming even back then.  They were paying me enormous amounts of money to do general manufacturing work which was cutting into their margins big time. Good workers were hard to find, so they let me work all I wanted.  But in business, that is throwing good money into bad practices and it eventually caught up with them.  Within a few years of my employment there they announced that they were selling their automotive division.  But by then I had obtained a job at Cincinnati Milacron working on precision machines and I never looked back at Worthington—or what had become of them.  Even though we go as a family to Kings Island all the time which is very near Worthington’s old plant, I never drove by it—but around it except for that nice spring day in 2017.  It was strange to see that old vibrant place completely dead and for sale.  Something which had provided so many jobs to so many people was just sitting there a dead plant.

Most people go to their jobs and do their work never really thinking of what it takes to make a business work, or how close to the precipice of becoming extinct their jobs really are. They complain around the water cooler about their bosses and everyone thinks they can do a better job.  But they never do, they never get involved in the management side of things and if things go bad, they simply get another job.  I was never like that.  I always wanted to help management be successful—even when I was too young to be taken seriously.  And I really wanted Worthington Custom Plastics to succeed and I felt it could if only I worked harder—which was always in the back of my mind.  Part of the reason I left was that it had the feeling that it was going to run itself into the ground—even though when I did go to Milicron it seemed like that would never happen. The place was just too busy.  But a business cannot operate at negative margins for long, and employees should appreciate the health of whatever company they are working for so to prevent such things from happening to them in the future.

These days it’s my job to make sure that a company doesn’t find themselves in the same fate as Worthington. Even though I say the same things that I’ve always said, now I’m old enough that people actually listen—and they are better off for it.  But seeing a big vibrant company like the one I worked at in my twenties gone the way it was, reminded me of how close almost every company out there really is toward their own extinction.  A good healthy company is something everyone should strive for even if you are an employee that only pushes a broom.  Good jobs should never be taken for granted.  I worked at Worthington doing 96 hours per week for two years.  One the weekends my wife and I delivered Door Stores an additional 20 hours per week.  On a typical Saturday I got off at midnight from Worthington and my wife and I delivered Door Stores until 4 AM.  We rewarded ourselves with White Castles from Fields Ertle Road.  We got up at 8 AM then did our walking route through downtown Mason until 2 PM.  We’d grab lunch then I went to work at 4 PM—and that was my weekend.  During the week, it was 16 straight, go home, take a shower, sleep, then I’d go back.  And I did that for two straight years without complaint.  Later the same year that I moved to Milicron we got dinged by the IRS for not paying enough self-employment tax on our Door Store route.  So to pay off our taxes I took a night job at Wendy’s by Kings Island and I worked there for another three years to pay off our tax burden to the IRS while working 60 hours a week at Cincinnati Milicron.

It is just something to consider when you are working somewhere that you should do everything you can to keep that company alive—and not take it for granted that it will always be there. Places of business are like living beings, they have to be fed and maintained in a healthy fashion, otherwise they die.  And it was sad to see Worthington Custom Plastics in Mason dead.  But it was.

Rich Hoffman

 CLIFFHANGER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

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