Friday, October 3, 2008

A sense of "History, Violated"

I'm in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to train a contract programmer on an application I support and enhance. The application is used at several North American and European sites by the companies that are IT clients of my company. Most people would certainly recognize the brand names involved.

When I got to the Allentown headquarters, I immediately felt very comfortable. The building was built and dedicated in the 1970s, and it reminded me quite powerfully of the Greensboro headquarters of a company I used to work for. The facilities are showing some age, the building style isn't anything approaching contemporary, and the corporate symbol is displayed everywhere. Everywhere, from peoples' desks to the hallways to the cafeteria to a three story representation on the front of the building that I understand is lit up at night.

This is not some obnoxious and empty form of corporate rah-rah cheerleading. These people, by and large, are proud of where they work. And, they are entirely correct to be so. The company is over 100 years old, their product is a brand name that has become, not genericized like Coke or Kleenex, but romanticized, almost mythical. It's well known and even celebrated, has been for decades.

Economics trumps history.

The multinational that owns all these companies has looked at the market conditions here in the US -- not the stock market, but the larger consumer market -- and reached the cold blooded decision that it cannot afford, in the long run, to maintain two brand headquarters in North America. All of the operations in Allentown are being shut down and consolidated to Greensboro by 2010.

I'm glad to know that both of the co-workers I'm closest to are making the move to North Carolina next year.

Both brands will continue, and I am hopeful the Allentown brand will maintain the quality and the toughness for which it's known. But, for us insiders -- even though I've made only the one trip here, I now consider myself an insider -- something will be missing; our little tribe is being swallowed up.

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