Archive for December, 2010

Happy New Year (we hope)

December 30, 2010 Comments off

A great read from Richard Longworth…my very best to you this New Year. Look for more posts very soon.




Categories: Uncategorized

The Case of the Canadian and The Opera Singer

December 20, 2010 Comments off

I admit, I watch to much television.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book and have read several, but sometimes mindless television is nice to numb the brain. Well, that would work IF I didn’t start thinking about everything in terms of work, and labor, and education, and our region…you get the idea.

So, the Canadian:

Mike Holmes, star of “Holmes on Homes” on HGTV, a professional contractor that goes around repairing botched general contracting errors, often saving homeowners from certain disaster. While the show is entertaining and insightful enough, what lies behind the show is even more exciting.  Mike Holmes started the Holmes Foundation, a non-profit organization that is promoting the skilled labor jobs in Canada. Realizing that Canada (and the United States) has a serious shortage of skilled workers in things such as carpentry and plumbing, Mike Holmes stepped up to the challenge of making skilled trades a viable option for young people.

If you watch his shows, two things strike you, first, Mike Holmes is a formidable figure. He stature and build reminds one of a linebacker, yet his caring personality screams empathy and love for what he does. The other thing you notice is his crew…young, intelligent, attractive men AND women…articulate, intelligent and highly motivated to work…the perception of skilled labor takes on a new look.

The Opera Singer


Of course, no discussion on the dire need for skilled work force would be complete without Mike Rowe. Believe or not, the king of dirty jobs once sang with the Baltimore Opera. However, his amazing voice aside, Mike took on the challenge of finding the dirties of the dirty when it comes to work.

Again, a highly entertaining show that only shows a part of this conversation. Similar to Mike Holmes, Mike Rowe also started his own foundation, Mike Rowe Works. This site discusses all of the current concerns that exists in these labor shortages. Our country needs to have a serious discussion on what work means any more.

The message of both foundation is simple. We need skilled labor as much as doctors and lawyers, accountants and stock brokers. Canada and the United States are not unique to this situation. Germany, France, Italy,  Mexico, India, China and Brazil are all in serious need of skilled labor. Lets also think about it financially…a plumber can make a nice living per year with minimal training debt to pay off (as opposed to college loans) and often own his or her own business within a few years.

Where does this leave us? If nothing is done soon, we’re going to be left with a lot of leaky pipes and failing structures. Is it time to rethink education? I think it is.



Categories: Uncategorized

Super Conductor

December 16, 2010 Comments off

We all had childhood dreams of what we wanted to be when we “grew up”. Many of these dreams remain that for some sad reason. Weather we are told they are to lofty, or silly or what not, dreams remain a little thread in the mosaic of our lives.

I could launch into the discussion as to why this happens, how education, society, what not, makes it seem impossible to live dreams. However, I am tired of theory, I am tired of hearing about “planning” to see change. Simply, its now time for action.

This leads me to the recent story of Keith Fitzhugh. A talented football player that has enjoyed several seasons with the NFL, a dream job if you will, playing football. What young athlete does not imagine themselves making it big? Mr. Fitzhugh clearly did. Not only did he play at Mississippi State as a safety, but he “made it big” if you will in the National Football League.

However, like many of us, the rise and fall of the tides in life effected him and his dream of NFL stardom. Being released from an NFL team is a powerful message and without clear prospects for the future, Mr. Fitzhugh reinvented himself, and followed yet another dream…a dream of riding that magic carpet ride of steel, a dream of working on the railroad.

Mr Fitzhugh, all 210 lbs of him, will now climb the ladder of a locomotive, not of NFL stardom, for he was hired on with Norfolk Southern Railroad. Soon after, he learned that the New York Jets picked up his option to play…and wanted him on the next flight. Faced with super stardom or obscurity, he kept his commitment with the railroad, saying that he did not want to let them or his family down. NFL life can be fleeting, but the railroad was more secure.

When asked about his fans, he said simply:

“You have families that go outside in their yards or go by the tracks, and just wave at the conductors and engineers as they are riding by — that feeling is really good…” , “Like the experience in the NFL, you still have fans out there.”

He’s gained another…



And now for the rest of the story…the good news.

December 2, 2010 Comments off

I loved Paul Harvey’s radio programs. My Grandparents were avid listeners to this distinctive voice of reason. The crackle of my Grandfathers AM radio would be but a minor distraction to Paul Harvey’s distinctive Oklahoma accent…In the spirit of Paul Harvey, I will attempt to provide “the rest of the story” and why I think things are getting better for our region.

We continue to hear conflicted news on the state of our economy. With the holidays approaching, the prognosticators look at numbers on graphs and sales receipts to say if this is going to be a “good” or “bad” season. But much like the teaser from Paul Harvey’s programs, this is the first part of the story. While these trained professionals in economic data crunching are surely experts in their field, I take a bit of a different approach and use a slightly less scientific approach.

And now the rest of the story…

I watch trains…yes, trains…I am a big railroad buff/historian/photographer so I find myself along the tracks quite a bit, usually with our oldest son, who is a railroad buff as well.

What I am seeing is that trains are growing longer and there are more trains running. Yes, not very data driven or visible in fancy graphs, but important none the less. Here are some examples:

On CSX, which is the primary rail line that goes through Lima and this region. There has been an overall gain of 4 trains per day over the past few months. All the trains have gained about 5 to 6 cars more of freight per average. Oh, and I guess I lied a bit on the data stuff. I do have some data that I occasionally receive from professional railroad friends. In addition to more trains and longer trains, one special train has started to run just to handle the overflow traffic that is getting generated from the crush of shipments on UPS. One other special train that travels are region carries iron ore to the large steel mill at Middleton, Ohio. This train is now a daily occurrence, partly because of the soon to be closed ports on the Great Lakes, but also because the blast furnace’s appetite has grown.

In addition to the trains, one can not overlook the massive improvements to the infrastructure that is taking place in our region. CSX and their yard at North Baltimore is a prime example…more locally, more industries are building side tracks to receive and ship good directly by rail. Silgan Plastics, in Ottawa, is a notable example of a recent spur track built to serve an expanding industry.

Norfolk Southern, another regional player, is also seeing spikes in traffic and our two local short line operations, RJ Corman and the Indiana and Ohio, also are experiencing expanding traffic base and more traffic, which means more trains, which means more crews, which means of course, more jobs. In fact, for every 1 railroad employee, there are nearly 5 other individuals employed in the myriad businesses served by the rail industry, or about 1.2 million other American jobs. (Source, the Association of American Railroads)

The moral of the story? The next time you sit at a railroad crossing waiting for that long train to go by, enjoy the brief pause in the busy day and.remember that this minor inconvenience is pumping vital energy into our region and our nation. The friendly wave from the engineer or conductor represents not only the pride in their craft, but also the hundred of others who’s hands have touched the goods they are hauling.

Make sure you wave back…


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