Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Giving Birth to New Pessimism?

Media Network of Central Ohio, the Gannett chain in Central Ohio, has begun a series on future jobs being called "Jobs 101."

For several months now, I've been talking to the reporters on this series and sharing my thoughts.  I'm nervous that the series, meant to spark interest in future jobs in the region, could, instead, give birth to a new round of pessimism.

After all, it's difficult to compare the past and manufacturing employment of the 1950's and 1960's to today.

Nonetheless, I responded to reporter Kent Mallett with an e-mail before his most recent Sunday story ran.

Kent got it right, but, here's what I said, in my own words, just for the record:

We can't get Superman to go around the planet and turn back time. The past is the past.

We must look to the future and the things that will help places like Licking County thrive in the future.

Manufacturing employment in our nation has been harmed for decades by competition from foreign manufacturers.

Despite this, the U.S. manufacturing sector has remained the world's largest and many of our surviving industries are more productive. If the U.S. manufacturing sector could be taken out to stand on its own, it would be the third largest economy in the world.

Many exporting firms and highly-skilled manufacturing companies have grown through this time.

Regrettably, high productivity doesn't always translate into more jobs. Productivity, though, is critical to economic survival.

Foreign competition is not expected to be as strong in the future as it has been in the decades past.

Joel Kotkin, and others, predict that the largest countries that compete with the U.S. production capacity--namely China, Germany, Japan, European Union, etc.--will be suffering from loss of population in the production-age population. The U.S., with (before the recession) higher birth rates and immigration, is able to serve an increasingly larger portion of the world's production needs.

As a nation, we need to recognize manufacturing's still-critical importance and stop the catch-phrase 'manufacturing is dead.' This is even more important and true in Ohio and in Licking County.

I believe the basic formula is embrace manufacturing, invest in skills training, and keep building new infrastructure. It's more than this, but this basic formula is critical to our future.

There are already real examples of these things in Licking County.

Licking County embraces manufacturing. The Works STEM initiative is a chance for local manufacturers to reach the public with a sense of what they do every day and the high tech aspects of modern manufacturing. The Works hosted thousands of families in its STEM initiative in 2009-2010.

Licking County is ready to invest in skills training again. C-TEC's national model pre-employment training program is an example of a focus on skills training that matches manufacturer's needs.

Licking County keeps investing in infrastructure. Lastly, though there is urban resistance to it, Licking County continues to advocate for improved highway infrastructure. The Columbus-Pittsburgh Corridor is critical to preparing for a revived manufacturing and growing population.

Since I can't stop the presses, here's hoping I'm just being pessimistic about the potential for pessimism.

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