Event on May 5 Asks: Can New England Make Things Again?


Looking around at all of the old mill buildings and tanneries that have been turned into fashionable shopping areas and apartment buildings, it’s easy to think of New England’s manufacturing history as a thing of the distant past, like Paul Revere and women wearing corsets.  

But the factory that is at the core of Jamie Sayen’s new “You Had a Job for Life” just closed in 2007; and Rachel Slade’s new “Making It in America” notes that roughly 100,000 manufacturing plants have been lost nationwide since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, many of them throughout New England. 

This Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. at Hastings House in Beverly Farms, Sayen and Slade will join me in discussion as the Book Shop’s Sunday Salon Series returns to tackle the topic of what happened to American manufacturing, the people who worked those jobs, the towns that sprang up around those factories, and where we are now.  It’s inspiring to think that manufacturing began in New England with utopian ideals, as with Francis Cabot Lowell, who argued that his workers "would be housed and fed by the company and remain employed only a few years rather than form a permanently downtrodden underclass."

But, as Sayen shows, having a community and town too dependent on its largest employer can lead to exploitation and, eventually, betrayal and abandonment.  His profile of Groveton, NH, is incredibly detailed in its depiction of avaricious owners and the working people who suffered from their indifference to the public good.  Slade, however, seeks to provide hope with her profile of the Waxmans, whose effort to return manufacturing to Maine is both a labor of love and, potentially, a way forward. 

As their books demonstrate, the loss of manufacturing isn’t just about the loss of 9-to-5 jobs that paid enough to cover the mortgage and the car payment, but also about a general security and the ability for communities to control their own destiny, rather than find themselves at the whim of far-off and uncaring billionaires.  

Remember the supply-chain crisis that Covid caused? How lessened would the impact have been with our 1980s manufacturing base? 

We’ll explore these questions and so much more at the Hastings House on Sunday.  This event is free but reservations are strongly recommended and can be made HERE.  Please come and join us and offer your thoughts.  

Sam Pfeifle is the co-owner of the Book Shop of Beverly Farms. When he's not busy managing the web site and newsletter, he writes and plays music with the World Famous Grassholes from his homebase in Maine.