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Where the jobs are and where they’ll be

Got a chance to hear former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich who was the keynote speaker at a conference for fundraising and PR types.

He shared two great stories that are relevant to any community looking to hold on to their manufacturing jobs and stay competitive in a global economy (such as my community).

  1. A while back, the Secretary was asked to say a few words at the official opening of a new manufacturing plant somewhere in the US mid-west. The state had spent a small fortune and invested a ton of time in convincing the company to set up shop. Yet all of about a dozen folks worked at the plant, watching monitors and making sure the equipment kept running. Technology continues to drive major changes in manufacturing. Even China, low-cost manufacturer to the world, is losing manufacturing jobs as technology replaces people. And there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s not to say won’t be manufacturing jobs in the future. It’s just that what few jobs remain will be high-tech, with a focus on preventative maintenance and repair. And education will be greatest sustainable advantage for any community, country or individual.
  2. The Secretary also talked about his hip replacement surgery as an example of globalization. His hip was manufactured in Germany, using materials and technology drawn from all over the world. Yet the real value was added in the US where the orthopedic surgeon and the team of health professionals performed the operation and helped the Secretary get back on his feet. With globalization, everyone has the opportunity to get in on the act and add something to the finished product or service. The trick is to be the one adding the greatest value and in a way that’s tough to duplicate. The Secretary also talked about buying a new car from one of the Big 3 and finding it tough to find an entirely made-in-the-USA automobile.

Thomas Friedman said much the same thing in his must-read book The World is Flat, using an ice cream sundae analogy. You don’t want to be in the business of making the vanilla ice cream. Someone somewhere can likely make it faster, cheaper, better and make much more of it than you. What you want to do is come up with new sprinkles, a new must-have spoon to eat the sundae and a killer marketing campaign to sell the sundae. Constant innovation will keep you ahead of the curve and benefiting disproportionately from globalization.

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