Monday, March 23, 2009

Isn't Manufacturing Supposed to be Offshored?

The three final speakers at today's Jobs NOW meeting presented, perhaps, the most compelling story line of the whole event. It's about the slow death of manufacturing through benign neglect and through active campaigns for "High Tech" solutions. There are compelling reasons to encourage manufacturing, however, and these speakers made the case well, if only by coincidence.

The first of the three is an entrepreneur who owns a small Milwaukee-area manufacturing-services company. His background is eclectic--he worked with Fr. Groppi at the old St. Boniface parish, then for a couple of "Big Eight" accounting firms, then as the (very successful) co-founder of a dental-care network. He later participated in some Silicon Valley action, and finally returned to Milwaukee, purchasing the business he now operates.

He made an interesting observation: the revenues of manufacturers in the State of Wisconsin exceed the total worldwide revenues of ALL 'biotechnology' firms. And he approvingly quoted an earlier speaker who said that "if you don't mine it, make it, or grow it," you are not creating sustainable wealth.

This speaker was followed by a gentleman who operates a very large machining house, (employing 800 or so), who spoke of the disappearance of manufacturing from the Wisconsin landscape; he was concerned about changes in Wisconsin's 'joint/several' liability laws as well as the 'pooling exclusions' for health insurance; but more than that, he was concerned about the continuing erosion of Wisconsin's manufacturing base. There are 800 families' incomes at stake in his shop alone.

Both these men see manufacturing as a very important contributor to the economic well-being of the State--and the final speaker made that case again, directly and indirectly.

The last speaker was a black man working in the trades. He thought there should be some changes in health-care to make it more affordable, but did not endorse HillaryCare, nor Obama's plan. He was forceful, clear, and to the point.

But that was not the most significant part of his presentation.

During his narrative, he mentioned that his mother worked at Briggs and his dad worked at another large local manufacturer. Neither of those parents were engineers, nor managers. They (most likely) had a high-school education and probably a fair amount of training afforded them by their employers. With only those credentials, his parents were able to assemble a comfortable (but not opulent) life for themselves and for their child(ren.)

THAT is what manufacturing provides. A decent life for 'regular people' who do not have college degrees. An income which allows for raising children comfortably. The final speaker implored the Leggies to find ways to retain manufacturers. He had already made the point that his parents benefitted from that economic powerhouse. He also mentioned that during his career, he had worked 'on-site' as a contractor for GM/Janesville, P&H, and Case/Racine--in other words, manufacturing provided a decent life for him, too.

It never ceases to amaze me that some people would simply allow Wisconsin's manufacturing base (and the mining base, too) to wither on the vine in hopes of 'putting Wisconsin on the High Tech Highway', effectively telling a large group of Wisconsin citizens that they do not have a future in this State. I remind you that if someone is convinced they do not have a future, they will not be seeking one...

Seems to me that the alternative to welfare IS work; but not all work requires Masters' or Ph.D. degrees. Some work only needs willing hands and the ability to learn. It is the kind of work which provides both a comfortable living and a future.

Why ignore it?


Beer, Bicycles and the VRWC said...

But, but, but ....manufacturing is, like...dirty and not, like.... sexy...and well....we wouldn't want something like that in Wisconsin. High Tech! Biotech! We only want people with college degrees (Masters preferred). The rabble...well, we claim we care about them, but we' really be better off without them so we can enjoy our cheese and wine in our urban villages without know...."others".

Dad29 said...

You read my post exactly right.

Anonymous said...

Why does it have to be either or? Shouldn't we look to retain our manufacturing base and also put Wisconsin on the High Tech highway at the same time?

I think the vast majority of Wisconsites (and midwesterners) have a certain pride of their blue collar background. Even those Wisconsites who have chosen to get a higher education and have a few glass of wine and a few slices of cheese now and then.

Anonymous said...

Ah geez. I meant "Wisconsinites".

Dad29 said...

You are right--my post seems to imply that it is 'either/or.'

No problem with full-steam-ahead on both; they can be complementary, after all.

Anonymous said...

"Some work only needs willing hands and the ability to learn."

Actually all work needs a healthy bottom line.

I watched a local UAW leader being interviwed on a local cable show in Kenowhere a couple months ago.

He was asked "If you were CEO of Chrysler, what would you do to increase manufacturing jobs in Kenosha?" His answer was classic, "Sell more cars."

If the State could help GM, Chrysler, and H-D sell more vehicles, then I'd buy this arguement that this post alludes to. But without seeling "more cars", all of the state's behind the scenes efforts will be relatively worthless.

But I could be wrong. I often am.

Dad29 said...

I was pretty careful not to endorse union-ism in the post.

At the same time, I am NOT a fan of "Taylor-ism," the 'science' which equates men with machines.

There is a balance. Ask the Japanese, who learned it from us.