by Evan Stair
One can get attached to wide open spaces living in the center of the United States. However becoming geographically challenged is a drawback if you stay too long. Over the last thirty years business trends have led to a disturbing fact; small town America is dying.
Case in point: Enid, Oklahoma
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s my parents would cram the family in the car and drive to the third largest city in Oklahoma; Enid. It was a modern city in many ways. Champlin refinery (and the oil business in general), Phillips University, Vance Air Force Base, Bond bakery and Gold Spot dairy all provided Northwest Oklahoma with a big city outpost and good jobs to keep the city a wonderful place to live and work. At one time Geronimo automobiles called Enid home (only one Geronimo car still exists and it is on display at a local museum.)
The Enid town square was visible from miles away as several skyscrapers surrounded and dwarfed the large county court house in the center of town. The Broadway Tower was the largest. Enid hosted another type of skyscraper; North of downtown stretched one of the top three largest grain storage complexes in the world.
Three railroads served the town and the grain complex with lines radiating out in ten directions (The Atchinson Topeka and Santa Fe, the St. Louis and San Francisco (better known as “The ‘Frisco”), and the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific (better known as “The Rock Island”).
In fact, the town still had passenger rail service up until 1968, although the Rock Island’s Twin Star Rocket was probably not used frequently because it arrived in the early morning hours. An amusement park existed on the Southwest side of town.
As Enid Fades
Today it is obvious that Enid is dying. The oil business has moved to Houston and overseas. In fact, the Champlin refinery has been dismantled and moved to Houston. Gold Spot dairy has closed after being merged with corporate conglomerate AMPI (American Milk Producers Incorporated).
While not a large dairy, Gold Spot did have an effect and local presence in the town. The milk tanks have been removed and a thrift store has replaced the corporate offices. Bond bread is gone. Geronimo cars were only produced for a short time because after the plant burned, no one bothered to rebuild. The downtown square looks like a ghost town. One expects a tumble weed to roll by at any minute.
Parking is no problem as it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Only three railroads still remain in town. Farmrail, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and the Union Pacific. The Union Pacific runs through town on a north south route. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe runs east west. Farmrail’s deteriorating tracks run southwest of town. There are no local railroad offices remaining.
Many elevators sit empty while grain piles up outside other active elevators. The railroad no longer sees grain transport as a volume business in Enid so much of it is moved by semi trailers. Storage of grain is no longer seen as necessary in this town which is far removed from export grain sea ports. The oil business in Oklahoma has been dead for nearly fifteen years.
The result: Enid is collapsing. The loss of business has forced Phillips University to close its doors and liquidate its assets. The mall that was built to try and attract retail business is suffering. Even more the small businessman has changed. The Ma and Pa business have given way to national franchises. When was the last time you had a good Lotta Burger or Gold Spot hot fudge sundae?
What does this have to do with Corporate America? Corporate America has one goal; to please the stockholder. The customer and employee are left to suffer the consequences and, in turn, the nation suffers.
The big cities get bigger and the small cities die.
Corporate America is a silent invasion that takes families captive. These families are forced to move to the dangerous metro centers where gangs, crime and a general hectic pace of life prevail.
But that is another story.
The problem is that Corporate America has lost touch with general moral values upon which this country was built. Corporate America has become the Land of the Greed. Honesty, Quality, Company Loyalty to the employee and by the employee to the company, modest growth, customer satisfaction, and life-long careers all seem to be worthless in today’s rat race. As a society we have become all too willing to purchase products that lack quality. Note the phrase “we live in a throwaway society.”
What has caused this lack of quality? There are numerous reasons. Employees are forced to leave small cities like Enid and live in the traffic choked, family unfriendly, dirty “mega”tropolises. Mergers always loom on the horizon with the prospect of confusion and layoffs. Why go the extra mile when you are just running in circles?
The proposed four day week that was rumored in the 1970’s has become the six day 70 hour work week for many of us and unemployment for others. Salaries have not kept pace with business growth so both household heads have to work. Employees suffer burnout as a record pace. Did someone say stress? All of this is caused by one trend.
Empires Over Satisfaction
Corporate CEO’s are more interested in Empire Building than Customer Satisfaction. Merging Corporations seems to be the new goal of the “head cheese.” I know of some businesspersons who have left the same company several times only to return when the latest merger is announced. These major corporations are located in tier one cities for the most part and therefore good jobs are being sucked out of small cities at a record pace. This is why Enid is dying and the “mega”troplises are choking on their own consumption.
This devouring of the small town spirit is why gangs are becoming more violent as jobs in the heartland disappear and reappear in big cities. Mergers cause mass confusion on a corporate scale. People are displaced from their niche on both sides; buyer and buyee. The company expends resources on assimilation and consolidation rather than competition and quality. Mergers are sometimes a necessary evil. However, our government leaders seem blind to the effect on society as their approval is only a rubber stamp away.
I would urge any politician reading this to think twice and read the facts before signing on the dotted line the next time you review a merger request. Stockholders beware: Not every merger is good. Consumers… drive past that national burger franchise and eat a Lotta Burger if you can find one.