No one should be surprised that the Forster Manufacturing Company plant in Strong will close June 1, 2003, putting 100 workers out of a job. The woodturning business in western Maine can’t compete with foreign imports.

Only a handful of plants still exist in the state. Thurston’s mill in Rumford closed several years ago. Maine Dowel in Farmington was sold a decade ago. Recently C.B. Cummings in Norway closed. And, most recently, H.G. Winter in Kingfield and part of Solon Manufacturing Company have closed their doors.

The shoe industry has felt the impact and the paper industry is currently under pressure.

It used to be that rural families could live a comfortable, if modest, lifestyle. But, now, in our western Maine area, jobs with benefits are in health care and education fields, not manufacturing.

Great Northern Paper in Millinocket is a good example of the cost of benefits struggle.

A number of people in western Maine now commute to the Lewiston-Auburn, Augusta-Waterville and Portland-Bath areas for jobs. Commuting is expensive and time consuming. The drive is tiring and sometimes dangerous.

Greater minds than mine are working on the economic development problem but the American dream, desirable income and fringe benefits collide with the work economy and abundance of cheap labor.

There are opportunities.

The Maine International Trade Center in Portland has information and programs for Maine citizens, as does the University of Maine system, regarding international trade.

In my mind I am sure shoppers enjoy buying manufactured goods for bargain prices, but there is a downside related directly to job loss, tax base and being in control of our own destiny.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is probably a double-edged sword for the United States. Any country with cheap labor is a problem for the United States.

Walter Gooley, Farmington

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