Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Future of Manufacturing, Part II

Scott Paul runs an unusual organization.  The Alliance for American Manufacturing is a joint effort of US steel companies and the United Steelworkers of America.  Such a labor-management partnership may seem like a contradiction in terms, but as he explains in our conversation, both workers and companies have a stake in preserving, or better yet restoring, manufacturing as a cornerstone of the US economy. 

It's not just that workers need jobs, though of course they do -- as anyone in the Mahoning Valley can attest.  It's also that companies need consumers, and in order to afford to buy products, people need jobs.  More than that, they need jobs that pay well.  Too many Americans have accepted a sad and problematic story line about how the demise of American manufacturing is the fault of workers and especially unions.  No doubt, organized labor is far from perfect, and yes, labor costs are higher when companies pay decent wages and provide good benefits.  But jobs like that have a ripple effect in a community, creating additional jobs and spreading prosperity through a community.

We've seen that locally.  Local leaders as well as unions worked hard to persuade GM to assign the Cruze to the Lordstown plant.  Why?  Because 1500 jobs matter, and not just to the 1500 workers who have them.  1500 jobs means thousands of purchases at local businesses, requiring hundreds of hours of labor by clerks and other store personnel.  1500 jobs means thousands of doctor's visits by people with good insurance, requiring hundreds of hours of labor by clerical workers, nurses, accountants, janitors, and others who help keep clinics and hospitals running smoothly.  And 1500 jobs bring thousands of dollars into city, county, and state budgets, providing not just jobs but also increased safety and quality of life for everyone. 

 It might not be pretty, and no doubt many local leaders want us to "get over" our history as an industrial community.  But as Scott Paul reminds us, the future of manufacturing is really the future of our economy.  Maybe you're a lawyer, a technical writer, or an elementary school teacher, doing work that seems far removed from steel mills and auto plants.  Doesn't matter.  Manufacturing matters to you.

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