A City Tackles Peace
Faced with 12,000 jobless when war ended, Worcester, Mass., rolled up its sleeves and went to work. Here’s what happened
WORCESTER, Mass., looks no different from hundreds of other middle-sized cities in the United States and Canada.
There’s the smoking power-plant chimney near the river, the spire of an old church, the inevitable central square with its monument, ancient poplars, stores and bustling traffic.
Just another New England town, you’d say— and you’d be wrong. For Worcester is conducting an important experiment. This conservative, treelined Massachusetts municipality of 200,000 is making jobs—12,000 of them.
And it’s not making these jobs by the old-time Chamber of Commerce method of going out and trying to nab payroll-supporting industries from other communities; or by begging help from the State or Federal Governments; or by raising taxes to pay for work-making civic improvements.
Instead, through a unique, original kind of Industrial Bureau, Worcester is studying itself, taking its native talent, ability and will to work and giving its small businesses all the technical, financial and professional skill of America’s biggest without touching their individuality or independence.
It all began back in the fall of 1943. Spurred on by the Committee for Economic Development, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization of businessmen, big and little, Worcester’s Chamber of Commerce started to look through the smoke of wartime production toward the day after tomorrow.
C. E. D. had already done some spadework on the task of unscrambling 46 million U. S. war jobs and having 10 million more ready for the veterans. One thing C. E. D. found was this: Although the U. S. has a reputation for doing business in a big way, actually there are less than 3,500 businesses in the States employing more than 1,000 people, and two millions with fewer than 100 each. Little business not only employed a greater number of men and women than the big fellows but even provided more jobs than the nation’s farms.
C. E. D. came to the conclusion that General Motors, Du Pont and U. S. Steel wouldn’t prosper unless the smaller outfits did too. So it decided to go right to the grass roots.
WORCESTER was chosen as one of three test spots. The Chamber of Commerce and the C. E. D. group formed there began looking over Worcester’s assets, human and material. Worcester, like most communities, knew little about itself. Two hundred victory aides—women civilian defense volunteers—began ringing doorbells and buttonholing everybody in the town’s area to dig out the dope. How many had been employed? How many had war jobs? What were they going to buy after the war?
What they found wasn’t too good. Once Army and Navy contracts finished or were cancelled, Worcester’s normal industrial structure could only support 72,000 jobs. Since the total 1940 Worcester labor supply had been 81,000, chronic unemployment from the city alone would be about 9,000. But Worcester is also the job centre for nearby towns—Auburn, Paxton, Holden, West Boylston. To a lesser extent it also provided employment for workers of several other communities and got a percentage from even more
remote areas. Many of these people were Worcesterit.es who, though they’d moved to the suburbs, traded in Worcester stores and patronized its professional, commercial and recreational services. It wouldn’t have been wise to consider them as apart from Worcester’s postwar problem, so they were included too. That meant an estimated labor supply of 84,000, and a shortage of 12,000 jobs.
The survey showed that 42.4% of Worcester employment was supplied by manufacturing concerns. On this ratio manufacturing would have to supply 36,000 jobs and nonmanufacturing industries 48,000 jobs in postwar Worcester. If manufacturing could make its quota, the stores and service business which sell the hats and shoes and drugs and entertainment to the factory workers would have fewer troubles making their own kind of jobs. So it was decided to concentrate on industry.
The investigators found something which had been almost overlooked. For the past 20 years Worcester’s whole economic trend had been roller coasting downward. If events were left to take their own course, there would be diminishing retail trade, a decreasing demand for services of doctors, dentists, nurses and other professional people, and the inevitable higher tax rate when more people needed help and fewer were able to pay taxes.
Worcester checked over the assets which it could develop. It had more than 300 concerns employing less than 50 persons. Its labor force included thousands of workers trained in a great variety of mechanical and business skills. It had easily accessible sites in town and suburbs, institutions and private investors with capital, and the nearby seacoast. with prospects of foreign trade.
Most important, it had hundreds of prolific, inventive minds and plenty of courage and imagination. Worcester’s small firms, under armed forces guidance and the stimulus of war, had helped achieve miracles of wartime production. They could do the same thing for peace, the investigators felt, provided they had someone to nourish them, needle them, lift them if need be by the scruff of the neck and help them.
Having recorded the local facts of life, the C. E. D. and Chamber of Commerce established their new kind of Industrial Bureau, with two main objectives: first, strengthening what Worcester already had; second, stimulating new business. They thought it could be done by making available to small business the same kind of resources, research and specialized training which in the past only big business has been able to afford.
Here’s an example—the case of Steve Harkness. All during the war his converted machine shop had been humming, turning out vitally needed caps for tommy gun bullets. The five-man force had expanded to 40.
But a telegram suddenly terminated the contracts and the jobs.
That’s where the new Industrial Bureau came in, with an expert known by reputation to Steve for his work with one of the big manufacturers. Step by step he went over the plant. Had Steve ever thought of using a stamped part instead of the expensively machined castings on the gadget he made? And the Continued on page 42
Continued on page 42
A City Tackles Peace
Continued from page 21
design . . . why not a modem twist?
A few days later another Bureau visitor dropped by. Had Steve considered selling his product in Mexico or Uruguay? The answer, of course, was no. As with the other suggestions, he wouldn’t know how to begin, how to get orders down there, how to pack for the Latin trade, how to correspond
in Spanish and collect. Advertising and financing, selling, billing and collecting, the hurdles which make expanding trade and new projects complex, irritating and profitable, were too great for Steve alone. The bureau showed him how.
Everyone In On It
Then, with Steve’s case as an example, the Bureau went to the town for money to keep the service going.
Citizens were reminded that if Steve and many others like him went out of business, it would mean thinner pay envelopes for a large part of Worcester.
Newspapers, radio stations, labor unions and service clubs got behind the campaign. In five days $140,000 was subscribed—$90,000 more than the Bureau’s annual budget.
There was no sitting down after that. The essence of the whole scheme is aggressive action, not behind a desk, but out in the field.
Look what happened to Steve. The production man who called on him was Maxwell M. Small, graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with practical experience at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Corp., and other firms. From his know-how and contacts he had the information on Steve’s parts production headache, and even a chain store out West, which wanted half a carload of Steve’s new product just as a starter.
The foreign trade consultant was Edwin F. Taylor, recently discharged from the Army after serving as a colonel in the Transportation Corps. A graduate in business and finance at the University of Pennsylvania, he learned the ropes with Sterling Drug International and United Fruit, two of the largest North American companies dealing in Latin America. He was able to get Steve in contact with buyers.
Also, Mr. Taylor found that less than 50 Worcester companies did any overseas business at all, and only a handful of these what could be called a substantial volume. In a few months more than 100 overseas contacts were established. Markets for Worcestermade safety pins, valves, steel wire and other products were found in Guatemala, Colombia and other South American republics. Names of prospective buyers were checked, local manufacturers shown how to handle credits, invoices, certificates of origin, exchange, and all the other matters which usually floor the uninitiated. A Foreign Trade Council set up by the Bureau is already preparing to send
its own man through certain Latin countries to make a selling and buying survey. He’ll also act as agent for those Worcester companies — the majority—unable to afford their own field men.
The Bureau gave other invaluable help to Worcester industries. One drug maker, for example, was about to close because hand bottling was plunging him deeper and deeper into a hole. William C. Keel, the Bureau’s sales and production consultant, found him bottling machinery he could purchase easily, and ^helped him draw floor plans, charts of sales demands, and duties of various workers in his plant. Efficiency shot up 400%.
Another manufacturer making ironing boards was close to a shutdown because cotton covers were unobtain; able. A group of bakers who had been aided a week previously were notified, arrangements were made to obtain their entire supply of flour bags, and 18 jobs were saved.
Small businesses unable to afford costly laboratories have been able, through the Bureau, to get products tested, learn the most efficient specifications, materials and necessary techniques. In a surprising number of instances this hasn’t cost the Bureau much either. It simply enlisted the help of Worcester’s own Holy Cross University and Polytech Institute, unapproachable by an individual but ready for a community project.
In some cases businesses have been shown the way to entirely new activities: One factory was unable to use large quantities of waste wood cut into odd shapes. The Bureau put samples on display in its office under a sign: “Can you use these?” Two veterans had an idea. With paint, fixing and resourcefulness they could be made into toys. Today a cleaned-up basement factory is employing a dozen men making swings, hobbyhorses arid dollhouses. Another pair of ex-G.I.’s created jobs fancying up a huge surplus of Army horseshoes the Bureau found, selling them as toys.
Instead of sitting around and waiting for veterans to come in, the Bureau
! has sought them out and guided them in getting started. Often it found veterans, like other small businessmen, just didn’t know where to start. The Bureau shows them.
In a number of instances this has involved going to big plants and persuading them to hand out subcontracts to smaller ones or to individual enterprisers,” the stunt which did so much to make the speedy Allied war production possible. This has aided the large firms as much as the smaller ones, since in many cases certain companies haven’t the space to expand, while others have facilities idle.
During its survey, the Bureau found an abandoned war plant. Instead of wasting time trying to lure some big company to town to use the plant, the Bureau is considering splitting it up and leasing out small sections complete with light, heat and trackage. A fairgrounds building, previously idle 10 months a year, is being pressed into the same kind of service to tide other manufacturers over until building bans and shortages are ended. And an industrial housing project is on the drawing boards.
Aid to existing small businesses— the trades and services—while not a major activity so far, has not been overlooked. Checking national figures from the C. E. D., the Bureau learned that the mortality of small U. S. business was surprisingly high. Sixty to 70% of all retail stores, it was found, didn’t survive more than five years.
A quarter of these failures was due to lack of experience, another 23% to inadequate financing.
Here’s where the carefully gathered facts helped. By comparing needs with existing population, the Bureau discovered there were too many stores in certain lines and not enough in others. In some neighborhoods there were too few garages to service the number of cars soon due, in others inadequate grocery, drug and other shops. By having the facts the Bureau not only opened job-making opportunities but helped prevent failures.
So far as financing is concerned, again and again the Bureau has run across small businessmen who meet the weekly payroll out of their pants pocket and get balled up in tax forms, government agencies and a host of other complications that hardly existed when many of today’s big businesses started. The Bureau provided experts to help such businesses find their way through this red tape.
It has also aided prospective borrowers. The Bureau itself lends no money. But it has made introductions to private financiers anxious to invest but uncertain where to go.
Inventions That Paid
In several cases inventors have come in for help. One man had a patent on a mop cleaner. The Bureau found the cost would make it prohibitive for homeowners, probably result in a
business failure if it were manufactured. But businesses and institutions might be interested. As a result a manufacturer took over the rights; now employs a dozen people on this one new project.
One man, who invented a plastics modeler, was so discouraged he was about to move. Several individuals realized the worth of his idea, but none was willing or able to give him the required hand. The Bureau got the interested parties together and helped obtain the financial and legal aid to form a company. Production has already exceeded all expectations. This one industry gave jobs to its own employees, to printers making labels, lumberyards building containers, paint shops producing colors and so on down the line.
When I was in Worcester this scheme was just getting under way. I was, of course, unable to determine how many of the needed 12,000 jobs have already been created, how many old businesses had been aided and new ones started. Things are moving too quickly, problems are changing, worries rising and being licked. But the whole town is behind the plan—sharing the work because it’s aware that it will share in the reward.
Worcester realizes its problems are problems present in every North American city, that it cannot make a neat little plan by itself and stop there. It offers no blueprint to Utopia either . . . but it does point a way.