Crushed dreams? That’s what we found back in 2004 after an announcement of a new finishing facility in Wellsville. (Kyle Torok photo)
By JOHN ANDERSON
Back in 2004, you might remember a press conference was held where a finishing plant was going to be put in Wellsville N.Y. to work on Wellsville, Ohio’s Sterling China.
It was exciting news.
Not only do the two communities share the same name, for years, the Wellsville Bowl was held when the Midget Football teams from both communities played against each other.
During those years, kids would stay in the house of a football player in Wellsville, Ohio, and the next year, the kids from Ohio would stay in New York. Life-long friendships were built, especially with the parents and coaches who visited each community.
The game ended in the 80’s and I tried to bring it back around 2003 or so when I was president of the youth football league here. However, talking to the youth football officials in Ohio, the ages and rules on weights were too far off to put together two teams to play each other. The coaches were concerned they would be practicing with kids who wouldn’t be on the team and no one would be ready for their regular season.
A year later, this china dream was announced. At a press conference, they handed out Sterling China plates and cups. Underneath it said “Wellsville” with NY and Ohio on each side. The romance of it seemed to get the best of the reporters covering the event. The reality was, something didn’t seem just right.
At the time, I had two reporters on staff who were eager to uncover what was actually happening. Kyle Torok and Shane Liebler. Kyle was an Alfred University graduate and Wellsville native. Shane was a St. Bonaventure graduate and a Detroit native who was embraced by the community.
As everyone was excited for new jobs in Wellsville, we did some research at the old office on Main Street. It turned out, no one realized the Sterling plant laid off its entire staff and closed just two days before Christmas in 2003. In January, the plant reopened and slowly started hiring workers back.
Shane and Kyle jumped in the car and drove to Wellsville, Ohio.
They were shocked to see the shell of a factory, an empty facility and the only signs of china were broken plates outside in the back of the plant. There was no receptionist. They walked in and wound up talking to a rather surprised CEO.
They talked to the union boss in Wellsville, Ohio at his home. He started to cry. He had no idea about the Wellsville, N.Y. finishing plant and figured this was the end of the plant in Ohio. While the stories were online, not everyone was using the internet.
It’s a sad story, the plant closed in Ohio, and the finishing never took place in Wellsville.
It’s not as sad as GE gutting the incredibly successful Lufkin plant here or what happened with Dresser-Rand.
Last week, WKBN, Ch. 27 in Ohio did a story on the old Sterling China plant. The land is being repurposed and it appears Wellsville, Ohio, has some good ideas to use it for business once again.
However, as I watched the broadcast, I couldn’t help to think of the incredible work Kyle and Shane did on that series.
Kyle wrote, “More than politics, schools or taxes, Wellsville’s town talk always buzzes about jobs. Employment, its lack and loss, is the single thought of the citizens. Store fronts go vacant as businesses go bust, and Wellsville’s youth leave for cities and other states seeking what longtime residents complain the town no longer provides them.”
Kyle continued, “Subdued fear creeps through office cubicles and over factory floors at Alstom Air Preheater and Dresser-Rand, the county’s two largest employers, on the backs of whispered rumors of layoffs. When the rumors become truth, sympathy for turned-out co-workers is chased with half-guilty sighs of relief that, this time at least, the ax fell on someone else. And with the next breath, they wonder how long until it finds them. Looming above all is the fear of either factory closing, an act that would sound the death knell for Wellsville.”
The words could have been published in Ohio or New York. His report was in response to our own Daily Reporter headline from Jan. 4 in 2004 that said, “Jobs on the way.”
The 50 jobs in Wellsville, N.Y. never happened. And I was proud of the work done by a small-town newspaper. So was our publisher, Oak Duke.
I still have hope for some kind of Wellsville-Wellsville connection in the future. I remember in 2004 thinking we don’t have it that bad here.
As construction begins with the Walgreens-Tim Horton’s-Quicklee’s development and an addition to ARVOS Ljungstrom facility for new jobs, I’m feeling the same thing.