As we absorb the news that Smith & Wesson will be packing its bags — some of them, anyway — and leaving Springfield for Blount County, Tennessee, a self-proclaimed ‘Second Amendment sanctuary,’ we are left with a number of questions.
Ironically, most of them don’t involve whether more could have been done, and should have been done, to keep the company here, which is usually the case when a corporation decides to headquarter itself somewhere else. Despite CEO Mark Smith’s insistence that the company left because of proposed legislation that would ban the manufacturing of many of the company’s products (specifically assault weapons), it seems clear that Blount County made the corporation an offer it couldn’t refuse. And didn’t refuse.
No, most of the questions the day after the announcement was made concern just how big a loss this is for the city and the state. And those questions are certainly hard to answer.
On the surface, it’s certainly a big loss when the corporate brand most identified with your city (most people couldn’t tell you MassMutual is headquartered here) is lost to somewhere else. There’s also the history; Smith & Wesson was founded in Springfield in 1856, and the company has been a big part of the city’s manufacturing tradition.
But having one of your city’s largest employers be a manufacturer of weapons that kill people has long been somewhat of a public-relations problem. The jobs are good, but many have chosen not think too long and hard about what the people employed there are making and what they’re used for.
Aside from losing a big piece of Springfield’s history, we’re also losing roughly 550 jobs. That’s not insignificant, certainly, but let’s not forget that every manufacturing operation in Western Mass. has a help-wanted sign outside its doors, either figuratively or quite literally. For many years now, there has been a huge imbalance between the number of people these plants could hire and the number they have hired, because there just hasn’t been enough qualified people in the labor pool.
So … if you were ever going to lose 550 manufacturing jobs, or 550 jobs of any kind, this would be the time to lose them.
Which brings us to state Sen. Eric Lesser’s comment that this development with Smith & Wesson might be actually be some kind of blessing in disguise.
That’s an odd choice of phrase — and he was quick to note that he was obviously concerned about the 550 families to be impacted by this — but in many ways, it works.
Smith & Wesson is not leaving Springfield completely. It will maintain many of its operations and employ 1,000 people. That’s certainly good news. But no later than 2023, a good number of skilled workers — how many, we don’t know because some of those currently employed will follow the company to Tennessee — can take skills to other area companies that desperately need them.
The depth of this need is evidenced by the number of manufacturers who have already reached out to Lesser, other elected officials, the MassHire agencies, and even those employees themselves, letting them know that they are ready and willing to take them on.
It’s possible, that’s possible, that Smith & Wesson’s decision to relocate its headquarters and some operations to Tennessee might provide the means for some area companies to grow and perhaps open the door to additional employment opportunities.
This bombshell announcement by the company certainly represents a loss. But in some ways, it may also represent opportunity.