As momentum seems to be building for development along the North River Corridor, residents and some officials are looking for ways to bring more businesses into the equation.
Tanneries and other associated businesses once dominated the North River. Many a local man and woman found employment in those factories and in the manufacturing businesses at Pequot (Naumkeg) Mills. Factories could be found on Canal Street, Jefferson Avenue, Mason Street and even on Cousins Street in the shadow of the power plant. Salem was a blue collar, shot-and-a-beer town.
When I returned here in 1997, there was still a bit of that left. I took a job at 96 Swampscott Rd, with a company called Applied Extrusion Technologies (AET). AET had once been Maynard Plastics, a company with a long and proud history here in Salem.
When I first started with AET, they had 250 employees working around the clock in a 162,000-foot facility. They were the city's fourth largest employer at the time. Six silos stood alongside the building storing 500,000 pounds of plastic pellets. They had a fleet of 12 forklifts, including the kind which could reach platforms 40 feet off the ground.
In 2003, after another change in ownership, they closed their doors forever. In a little over six years, 250 jobs were gone. The cost of manufacturing in and shipping from a congested city with no direct highway access were just two of the many reasons they cited for closing the plant.
The Maynard Plastics/AET story is the story of Salem manufacturing. It was here and now it is gone. The site on Swampscott Road is now a mix of smaller manufacturing companies.
The urban renewal days brought the possibility of improving access to Rte. 128 from Salem. If that had happened, it is possible that we would have retained companies like AET and others like them. That did not happen, and we are probably better off for it. We were forced to grow in other more creative ways and have become a better community as a result.
There are three questions to be asked here:
How much commercial development is right for this stretch of Salem land?
Should the city encourage/require a developer to have a pre-determined commercial to residential ratio?
Is the type of traffic that would be created by light manufacturing businesses a better or worse option than that created by residential units?
Salem should encourage commercial industrial development. We need to have that component in the developments, but we should not go overboard trying to recreate the days of old. Those days are not coming back. There is already some commercial/industrial business on the river. Perhaps we would be better off encouraging the growth of those businesses.
Industrial businesses bring industrial traffic. More medium to large trucks is not really something to be desired in the North Street and Bridge Street area.
We are no longer a blue collar, shot-and-a-beer town. We retain some of that, but we have also become a wine and cheese community. We can recognize the past and celebrate the present while still planning and looking ahead to the future.