Plant closing marks end of era

When the last vehicle rolled off the assembly line at Ford’s Route 1 plant last week, it was truly the end of an era in Edison.

Ford began manufacturing cars and trucks in the township in 1949. Throughout its history, the plant made many famous models that all hold a distinctive place in American history — including the Mustang, Pinto, Bobcat and, most recently, the Ranger pick-up truck.

Just as the different models of cars made at the plant are intertwined with different parts of American history, the legacy of the plant is part of the history of the local area.

With Ford’s departure, auto manufacturing, like the manufacturing operations of many other industries that once had a strong presence in the local area, is gone for good. Ford, which began to decrease its presence in the township when it eliminated the second shift at the assembly plant in 2002, is only the latest example of a changing local economy.

When Ford and other companies departed the county in recent months and years, many of the blue-collar, union jobs that were once a staple of the local economy in Edison, Woodbridge and other surrounding towns disappeared as well.

Approximately 800 hourly and 100 salaried positions left the local job market when the plant closed.

However, the effect on the local economy doesn’t stop at the loss of those jobs. The livelihoods of more than just Ford employees depended on the Route 1 plant — such as that of the local car haulers who move the cars to the dealerships. While Ford employees who could not retire or chose not to transfer will receive pay and benefits until their contract runs out in 2007, those in associated industries will not see a similar compensation package to soften the blow.

With many of the customers who once stopped on the way to and from work gone, the delis, dry cleaners and pizza parlors surrounding the plant will also surely face painful circumstances in the next few months. Some business owners anticipate losing 25 percent of their business, or more.

Small business owners in the area hope Ford and the township will launch a redevelopment project on the site as quickly as possible. Indeed, the fate of many of those businesses will almost certainly depend on what ends up on Ford’s 102 acres and how quickly it goes up.

We hope that whatever springs up on the site will turn the situation from a negative to a positive for the local economy.