Sayen told the Chronicle that he started this mill project in the later part of 2009, when he was given an assignment for an oral history project in a graduate Ethnography class he was taking at Plymouth State University. He said that although he had never set foot in the mill and didn’t know many mill workers, when the professor explained the assignment, the mill, which had shut down two years prior, immediately popped into his mind. By the time the course was finished in February of 2010, he had done only about five or six interviews, but he found himself wanting to continue the project on his own.
“I knew I’d stumbled upon a huge iceberg and had only seen the very tip of it, and this story, these stories, deserved to be told,” explained Sayen. He has since taped and transcribed dozens of conversations he conducted with former mill workers. He added that early on he realized that it would make a wonderful book. The book, he says, is essentially written and he is looking for a publisher.
While economics was not Sayen’s focus for his original project, he said he certainly wanted to look into why the mill survived for so long, relative to others around the nation and into what ultimately led to its demise. While uncovering the successes and failures of the Groveton mill, Sayen found valuable lessons to be learned for a successful rebuilding the economy of the Upper Connecticut River Valley, which he presented in his talk.
Sayen says that frequently people are looking for a quick fix, and he feels this is often not the best way to go. “Bringing in another big employer that is not a right fit for the area just sets us up for another devastating blow when it fails.”
Sayen suggests a strategy of “controlling the uncontrollables,” which he explained as follows:
Instead of absentee ownership, to encourage local and/or public owned business that have an investment in the area. Instead of ultra-expensive technology, encourage low-impact, low-tech projects, noting the Garland Sawmill as an example. Instead of depending on big oil and similar projects, to encourage conservation, efficiency and avoidance, low-impact, local energy sources. Instead of producing commodity products, to focus on niche products and services distinctive to the region. He stressed reducing impact on climate change with a low carbon footprint, citing sustainable use of resources, preservation of land and biological diversity. Sayen feels that empty downtown store fronts will not attract new business, saying it is important instead to support local businesses, support neighbors, and avoid box stores and franchises.
After the presentation, Sayen welcomed discussion from audience members.
Watch this story in the Video News of the Week: