“It’s going to be a big blow to the community, that’s for sure.”
– KEN GREAVETT, ERICKSON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The long arm of the North American automobile industry crisis has reached beyond Detroit and Oshawa to affect small-town Manitoba.
General Motors will shut down at least half a dozen of its dealerships in Manitoba, including four in rural communities.
They are: Parkwood Auto in Erickson, Rosenort Motors in Rosenort, Brodeur Brothers in St. Adolphe and Gillis Garage in Elie. Fowler Pontiac in Brandon and Birchwood Pontiac Buick GMC in Winnipeg are also slated to close.
The closures are part of a massive restructuring by the auto giant. GM Canada will let 245 of its 709 dealerships go by October 2010 after sales and service agreements expire.
GM Canada is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors Corporation. The U. S. company has filed for bankruptcy but GM Canada says it will continue to operate under its own restructuring plan.
GM dealerships presently employ about 33,000 people across Canada.
While the closures in cities have drawn the most attention, GM’s dealership shutdowns in small communities will hit local economies harder.
That’s particularly true in Erickson, population 450.
“It’s going to be a big blow to the community, that’s for sure,” said Ken Greavett, vice-president of the local chamber of commerce. “No community of 400 to 500 people can afford to lose eight or 10 jobs. It will have an effect on the community, to say the least.”
NO NEW CARS
Dennis Coey has operated Parkwood Auto with a co-owner since 1968. He’s been told he can’t order any new cars and must have his inventory sold by December 30.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do at this point,” said Coey, 76. “It’s going to be a little bit sad because people are not going to have a place to come and get service. My customers who I do warranty and comeback stuff for, where do they go?”
Greavett, whose insurance agency is next door to the auto dealership, said his business will suffer, too, because many customers have their Autopac through him.
Coey has second-and -third-generation clients who won’t come to the area to buy cars or get them serviced, Greavett said. The nearest GM dealerships are Neepawa, Dauphin and Brandon, all nearly an hour’s drive away.
Coey said he couldn’t understand why his dealership was targeted because business has “certainly been decent.”
He said it’s too soon to know if the facility can be maintained as a used car dealership, an auto repair centre or something else.
MAIN STREET LOSS
Losing Parkwood Auto will leave a big hole on Erickson’s main street just as the town is trying to position itself as a regional service centre with its hospital, banks, insurance agency, lawyer’s office, lumberyard and, until now, a car dealership, said Greavett.
The town recently attracted a physiotherapist but a new restaurant burned down last winter.
The sudden loss of a major employer is always an economic blow to a small town, said Ruth Mealy, a Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives community economic development specialist.
But small communities can recover by replacing lost businesses, maybe not with another large one, but with several small ones, she said.
Mealy said rural Manitoba has many thriving entrepreneurial businesses, not just in Morden, Winkler and Steinbach, but in smaller communities.
As examples, she cited Cartwright, with a trailermanufactur ing plant , and Boissevain, with several exporting companies.
The first step toward revitalization is for a community to go through a planning exercise, identify its resources and decide what it can do. Economic development officers, community development corporations and MAFRI can help with that, said Mealy.
But it’s a long-term process that requires hard work and commitment, she said.
“Communities that have been successful in improving their economies have been at it for a long time.” [email protected]