Ballymena’s golden era of low unemployment could soon become a distant memory and the future ‘looks very bleak indeed.’
That blunt assessment, from DUP Assemblyman Paul Frew, is indicative of just how big a blow the closure of Michelin will be to the economy of Mid-Antrim.
Speaking on Thursday after meeting with Michelin management and talking to factory workers - many of them personal friends - Mr. Frew said the closure would lead to ‘devastation on a massive scale’.
“Coming so soon after the job losses at Pattons, the forthcoming job losses at JTI, B&Q and others, Ballymena, North Antrim and indeed Northern Ireland has been forced to look at the future in a different way and the scenario looks very bleak indeed. As someone who worked with Michelin on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis, and looking at the reasons for withdrawal I know that there was nothing that local management could have done any different over and above what they had already done. honestly dont think any politician or Minister or even all of us together could have halted or slowed down this inevitable decision.
“Other countries in the east flooding the market and lack of demand in the product were no doubt the main issues. Big business like Michelin and JTI work from a global chessboard. They have simply, but drastically, made their move.
“I ,along with Cllr Beth Clyde were the first elected representatives to meet with the plant manager within hours of the news breaking. It was totally appropriate that all staff were informed first before anyone else including media. I support 100 % the commitment from the company to relocate any employee who wishes to move and for all the efforts to retrain and advise employees for new jobs or start ups .
“However, the important question now for all elected representatives as the population looks into an abyss is how we help make it a brave new world? We have a short period of time. We will never get JTI or Michelin back. My main bulk of my work over the last 10 years has been trying to retain jobs now it is all about attracting jobs. We need a move on corporation tax now.”
Mr. Frew added that while much has been said about the impact of energy costs on Michelin and other large employers it had not been the ‘defining factor’ in this case.
“What I am certain of, however, is that energy costs massively impact on the cost of doing business in Northern Ireland and this is hampering new companies setting up in Northern Ireland and stopping many established companies from expanding and creating more employment.
“his is a very complex matter with so many players and factors involved including private business but it is essential moving forward that we tackle it. No one has put those players under more pressure than myself over recent years. That work only intensifies for me.”