It’s not too late to stop our local communities crumbling

Up until the latter months of 2008, I think I could safely say I knew very few people who were unemployed or had been made redundant. That is how things were for many of us who left college in the noughties, who grew up seeing jobs as disposable as daily contact lenses. If it was irritating you, you just flung it away and tried another. Or you packed it in if you fancied a trip to Thailand. But a harsh reality has set in for us all which has seen us all know a lot of people without jobs. Or be without jobs ourselves.

The news this week that Casey Autogroup, one of the Midlands’ largest car dealerships, was going into liquidation with the loss of 60 jobs, has seen fears grow for the security of hundreds of other local jobs in the sector. The family-run business had been trading in the region for over 80 years, and had even expanded in the last 10 years, before the dramatic downturn in car sales in recent months became too much.

And it’s certainly not the first time in recent months that the region has been hit by job losses.

Just last week we learned that the Budget Travel shops in Athlone and Mullingar were to close, and this week we hear that plans by American medical firm Abiomed to create 250 jobs in Athlone are to be shelved. It drives it home just how bad things are, when companies that just a year ago recognised the potential of the region are now running scared from their commitments to set up here.

It’s all got so much closer to home. Already thousands in many industries across Westmeath and the Midlands have lost their work this year, and that trend is set to continue as we experience an economic whirlwind the likes of which we have never seen before.

So we have to put our heads down, and see if we can dig our way out of this. And we can start by protecting local jobs and local community spirit.

Every year or so, you see the appeals for people to shop local. The Chambers of Commerce in both Athlone and Mullingar have been proactive in this area in recent years, setting up voucher schemes to ensure that money continues to be circulated locally.

However, because these appeals have become so commonplace, the plea to ‘shop local’ often falls on deaf ears and is seen as just another needless plea from an avaricious business community.

However, this time the appeal is different, because the decisions we take in the next days, months, year will determine whether many of these businesses will survive. In all of our communities, whether it is in Athlone or Mullingar, or the many smaller towns and villages through the county, the businesses that have popped up have made all of those places better places to be. We all like living where we do because of this great mix and we cannot allow the work of generations to crumble.

As we head into another school year, and dare we say it, begin to turn our thoughts to saving up for ‘the Christmas’, let us try to hold on to as much of what we have as possible.

If these businesses go to the wall now, then our entire communities start to unravel and it could be another generation or two before it gets back to where they were.

This recession is taking us back to basics. This week and every week, help the process by supporting those businesses that form the heart of your community.


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