Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ohio's Largest Company Town?

The company town, built and owned by one company as a place for its factory, managers, and workers, sometimes dominated by a paternalistic industrialist. The famous one is Pullman (now part of Chicago), but there are others. The raison d’etre of these places is to work and make money, lots of money for the owner or the stockholders, maybe no so much for the factory hands.

And can any place be more stifling?

Dayton is in some ways the largest company town in Ohio. There seems to be this historical pattern here., of one company dominating the community, some moreso than others.

In the 19th century it was the car works, in the early to mid 20th it was “The Cash”, also in the 20th it was Delco/Frigidaire/GM. Now it seems to be the military.

Of course, historically, the dominant company was NCR, due to sheer size and the force of personality of the paternalistic industrialist John Patterson. Patterson this, Patterson that, Patterson Road, Patterson Park, Patterson and the big flood, etc. etc. etc. Really, was having such a figure healthy for Dayton in the long run?

The problem I see in this type of economy and the mentality behind it, is that it squelches innovation and initiative. That it engenders conformity and uniformity. That it is risk-adverse. That there is an expectation that some new big daddy industrialist and line of business will rise to provide tons of new jobs. The question always seems to be “Where is the next John Patterson? “,”Where is the next Kettering?”

Which makes me leery of this big new influx of military work coming to town, as it seems like once again, the community is looking for or identifying with the next big company, rather than on economic diversity.

The next Patterson or Kettering is apparently is Uncle Sam. And he’s in an Air Force uniform.

Wouldn’t one prefer a city that is more diverse? Where there is a lot of smaller and mid sized firms and businesses of various types. Where there is more of a culture of entrepreneurialism leading to a richer more diverse and growing economy not dominated by two or three firms or a very limited set of business personalities.

And isn’t Dayton that city, or could be that city, but we just don’t notice it?

I blog on local history a lot. In fact the focus is mostly local history, or historical geography. History is open to interpretation, and has been selectively interpreted in Dayton to highlight the company town aspect of the community. There is more to the history of Dayton than that.

Which is why when I blog on historical things I rarely blog on NCR or Delco or the Air Force, as I prefer to bring to the fore the neglected and obscured history of the city, which I feel is more relevant to our times, and just inherently more interesting

At least to me.


Greg Hunter said...

Jeffery - It used to be OK to talk about the issues that the Military may cause to society, but that kind of talk will get you stoned in this town. I have been out of the loop since I left a military contractor, but I do see signs of the Military everywhere and IMHO, it is not good.

There are rumors that many of the MPs that train at WPAFB are roid boys and there attitudes are reflected in the dynamic at the local clubs. I wonder if the AF tests for roids or whether this is ignored as it sets the soldier in the proper frame of mind for completing the mission?

In addition, many of these individuals do not care much about Dayton as it is a waypoint in their careers.

I can say at least the Community has finally focused on maintaining WPAFB in the area unlike so many other businesses that they have let walk away. I wish we did not wait until it was the last egg in the basket, but what do you expect from the carpetbaggers and those left behind that run this town.

Jefferey said...

My comments are more about the company town aspect of things. That we are exchanging companys and buying into yet another parternalistic work culture.

The military & defense contracting is a phoney economy as it doesn't really operate in a truley competitive market and isn't generating profit within a market system. The competition is for defense contracts, payed for by tax dollars, not an ongoing competition to offer the best product service within a dynamic market, which also drives innovation and entrepeneurship.

I'm not sure about the "cultural" things you talk about. My hunch is that the emphasis on and celebration of the military and defense contractor world, as well as the influx of people working in this area, will make Dayton even more culturally and politically conservative and conformist (which suits a lot of people just fine).

But then that is also a stereotype to some extent, and one can always find counterexamples.