Posts Tagged ‘Life’

A Deafness to Success

January 22, 2012 1 comment

My Great Aunt Jeanie Yates was “deaf” since birth. Growing up in a time where deafness was considered a sign of deficiency, my late Grandmother (her sister) recalls sending Jeanie to a “special school” in Columbus, Ohio for weeks at a time. The tragedy of being “deaf” (as it was called then, now we say hearing impaired) seem tragic to their family.

But, upon meeting Aunt Jeanie, she was the perfect model of fierce independence. A gregarious soul that actually hated using sign language, she read lips…and communicated very effectively by mimicking the words back to us. Living on her own in Columbus for most of her adult life, she worked, participated and lived life to the absolute fullest.  She never let the challenge stop her, and she was open to telling the world how she rose out of the era where being “deaf and dumb” meant a one way ticket to demise. She also had a way of saying that being hearing impaired was actually a good thing and that she could actually bring a significant contribution to the conversation.

I was thinking about Aunt Jeanie lately when I was discussing the matter of our region to a colleague and also to my wife. “Its like we are deaf to our own success” I quipped. Realizing I’d said something somewhat profound (a shock), I quickly wrote down some notes:

1) Why is that places like Lima-Ford Engine plant do not share their manufacturing successes?

2) Why is that Proctor & Gamble discuss how they have  world renowned model of processing?

3) Why is that the small innovative industries go unrecognized?

4) Why is that the education institutions in this region are content on being “behind the scenes”?

The list went on for a while, but it came down to this basic fact, we as a region have a deafness to success. We do not promote our causes, we do not talk about the good things that happen, we certainly do not sell ourselves “Good Job”…those are values that seem somewhat Midwestern, “lay low, go with the flow” and certainly don’t bring attention to yourself.

This reality came to clear crossroads recently when Judy Cowan of the Ohio Energy and Advance Manufacturing Center (OEAMC) was speaking at a recent announcement of a new product line at AmericanTrim. The Ohio Department of Development director, Mrs Schmenk, was quite taken aback by what she heard about our region. She simply did not know all the good that happens here.

Who is to blame? Well no one, but like my dear Aunt Jeanie did, embracing your gifts and living them is the route to being successful and happy. It is time for us to interacting in the world around us and not being afraid of who we are and what we are about.


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…


The Case for Museums

November 11, 2010 Comments off

Our son and I attended the members reception last evening at the Allen County Museum. We were celebrating the opening of their new wing which features their exhibits on the regions railroad history, industry and military contributions we have provided to our nation.

After the usual accolades, recognition moments, and thank you speeches, we toured this amazing facility. Surrounded by history, one can feel the stories in their presence.

The center piece of the exhibit is the Lima Stone Companies Shay locomotive number 10. Built at the Lima Locomotive Works, she spent her whole life working at a stone quarry not far from the location of the new Lima Senior High School. The Shay, among the countless other pieces of history, immerses you in several realities.

Another example of our quiet past is the Herring Neon Sign company in Lima. Long a fixture on storefronts and signs, the history of neon is one of those quiet pieces of our past that has firm ties to our region. Little did I know…

Oh, and one cannot forget to mention the full sized mock up of the WWII service canteen…these canteens were dotted across the country to aid our service men and women as they traveled on troop trains. Lima was home to one at the PRR depot in down town Lima.

Where is all this going? Well first, GO AND SUPPORT THE MUSEUM!  You will love it. The new wing is spacious, open and kid friendly (and just COOL too). You will learn something new. The new wing will be publicly dedicated this Sunday.

Second, take some time during the next few days to look around at what is around you. It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day rush, a museum is designed to make us slow down. It also serves to reminds us that every day is a museum. Every day we have the opportunity to reflect and learn some new things along the way. Every day we can recognize what we can contribute.

Third, young people are important in this process. With camera in hand, our 11 year old absorbed the information with that sense of curiosity we still all have, even in our adult bodies. Our children seeing their place in history helps them realize they too can make a difference, just as the generations before have done.

His smirk and my grin say it all…


Admitting the Mistakes- Now what will change?

September 30, 2010 Comments off

Its bold to see a Governor admit such things prior to an election and the honest truth is sometimes hard to swallow. However, notice no plan was proposed for change. This is from the Toledo Blade.

Strickland, Fisher say Ohio erred in saving jobs
Leaders: State could’ve acted faster

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said the state Department of Development should move faster to keep factories from closing.

Ohio’s governor and lieutenant governor both said Tuesday that the state Department of Development should move faster to keep factories from closing and relocating to other states.

But Gov. Ted Strickland told The Blade that if keeping a factory from shutting its doors and shifting to Indiana, Tennessee, or elsewhere means outbidding those states with financial incentives, Ohio should engage in that bidding war only if it “is in the long-term interests of the state.” Yesterday the Blade concluded its three-day investigative series, Shut Down & Shipped Out, which revealed that about 140 factories with 20 or more employees have closed in northwest Ohio dating back to 2000, totaling about 18,000 lost jobs. At least 52 companies relocated work elsewhere within the United States, and 37 shifted work to another country.

In the last two years, with the country in the grip of a deep national recession, northwest Ohio lost at least 15 factories with 2,200 employees to other states — including four factories to Indiana. At least 32 factories closed overall during that time frame, totaling about 3,700 lost jobs, in the 18-county region around Toledo.

John Kasich, the Republican gubernatorial challenger in Ohio who currently leads Governor Strickland in the polls, said The Blade’s findings illustrate the chief problem facing the state.

“We’re too slow, we’re not ahead of the game, and we’re losing jobs to other states that are,” Mr. Kasich said. “People try to blame this all on the national economy. Some states are winning; we are losing.”

DAY 1: Factory closings rock the region as other states gain from Ohio’s pain

DAY 1: Fostoria endures fallout from string of plant closings

DAY 2: Archbold workers fell victim to corporate cleaver

DAY 2: Four year after American Lincoln plant closed, former employees struggle to recover

DAY 3: Many local factories still feel NAFTA’s sting

DAY 3: Ohio, Michigan outpace nation in increase of exports

DAY 3: Retraining programs often don’t lead to better jobs or pay

Search through our database of closed factories to see how many jobs were lost and where they went.

Have you been affected by factory closings? Share your story here

Much of the argument in Ohio’s highest-profile political races this fall, between
Governor Strickland and Mr. Kasich and the U.S. Senate race between Republican Rob Portman and Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, is over how Ohio conducts economic development.

Mr. Kasich has said he would replace the Ohio Department of Development, which has 408 employees and a $1.15 billion budget, with a private, nonprofit corporation governed by a 12-member board — a move Mr. Strickland said would be dangerous and irresponsible.

The department was accused by some northwest Ohio mayors of being nonresponsive or too slow to piece together incentives packages to keep factories from moving across state lines.

Mitch Roob, Indiana’s secretary of commerce, who oversees the state’s 65-employee, $37 million economic development operation, said he has won business from Ohio by the speed with which he can construct an incentives package for a factory considering a move.

Governor Strickland said the state’s development department should be “faster and more efficient,” but the governor also said it is necessary for Ohio officials to use caution before approving incentives for companies.

“If we were able or willing to give whatever resources were necessary to compete, we would never lose a competition,” Mr. Strickland said.

“But we’ve got a responsibility to the citizens of our state and to our state. And I think we do really well.”

Governor Strickland and Mr. Fisher, who ran the Ohio Department of Development from 2007 to February, 2009, both said the state had acted quickly and used incentives to attract and retain jobs on numerous occasions — including some in northwest Ohio.

On Sunday The Blade reported that since 2007, Ohio development officials played a role in the retention of Cooper Tire & Rubber in Findlay, Schindler Elevator in suburban Toledo, Chase Brass and Copper in Williams County, and the recruitment of a Whirlpool Corp. plant to Ottawa, Ohio — saving about 1,500 jobs.

“I want every mayor in the state to know that we’ve always had an open-door policy where a mayor can call me or the governor directly if it’s necessary to intercede,” said Mr. Fisher, who according to polling trails Mr. Portman in the race to succeed Republican U.S. Sen. George Voinovich. “Any time the governor or I become aware [of a potential business leaving Ohio], we intercede immediately.”

But Mr. Fisher also distanced himself from the development department he used to run, saying Ohio should lean more toward speed than caution when offering companies incentives packages.

In three recent cases of plants closing or massively downsizing in northwest Ohio and shifting work to Indiana, those companies were offered about $4 million in incentives to relocate. Ohio did not make a counteroffer in any of those cases.

Ohio was criticized by mayors whose cities lost those factories for having a complicated, drawn-out process for approving incentives in which outside boards and commissions must study incentive applications before giving the go-ahead.

“A state that responds fast but throws money at the problem may be fast, but is irresponsible with the spending of the taxpayers’ money,” Mr. Fisher said. “We believe you have to have a healthy balance between speed and making sure it’s the best use of the taxpayers’ dollar.”

Still, Mr. Fisher said he would like Ohio to speed up its approval process. When asked why the state’s process isn’t fast enough for him, given that he was in charge of the development department for two years, Mr. Fisher said: “There are still many people who believe the most important thing is to protect the expenditure of taxpayers’ money and that we always have to err on the side of caution to make sure that we’re not throwing money at a company unnecessarily.”

Mr. Portman, Mr. Fisher’s opponent, did not respond directly to The Blade. But Portman campaign spokesman Jessica Towhey said “manufacturers and other businesses clearly feel that the state is making it harder, not easier, for them to grow and create jobs here in Ohio.”

Although some economic and business-cost factors seem to favor Indiana, there are others that suggest Ohio is competitive with its neighbor.

Indiana’s unemployment rate in August was a hair higher than Ohio’s (10.2 percent in Indiana compared to Ohio’s 10.1 percent), but Indiana gained about 40,000 jobs since August, 2009. Ohio gained about 7,300 jobs since August, 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average salary for manufacturing employees in Ohio was less than in Indiana in 2009 ($43,011 in Ohio, $45,643 in Indiana), but electricity costs (6.19 cents per kilowatt hour for industrial users in Ohio versus 5.71 cents in Indiana) and average worker compensation rates ($3.37 per $100 of payroll in Ohio and $2.22 in Indiana) favor Indiana.

Mr. Fisher and Mr. Strickland both said investments made by the Strickland administration in alternative energy research, development, and manufacturing will foster an economic rebirth in Ohio. They said those investments — including millions of dollars poured into Toledo for solar panels — would have made more of an impact already if not for the near collapse of the U.S. economy at the end of 2008.

“I don’t pretend to have solved all the problems,” Governor Strickland said. “But I do think that even in the most difficult economic circumstances, challenges unlike anything we’ve experienced in many, many decades, my administration has worked to lay a solid foundation for future growth going forward.”

Contact Joe Vardon at:jvardon@theblade.comor 419-724-6559.

On Basketball and Economic Development

July 10, 2010 Comments off

For those of you who know me personally, you can attest to the fact that my knowledge of professional sports can fill one side of a 3×5 note card. It was never my thing, nor was chess, for that matter. I guess any sport that required excessive thinking from me I tended to shy away from doing or understanding. So, me blogging about basketball is not only very odd, but likely impossible.

To that end, I am not going to talk about basketball, but I will discuss a player of basketball. A player that seems to have alienated an entire state…proclaiming himself “The King” and now taking his court (pun intended) to Miami. This announcement shocked his home team of the Cleveland Cavaliers and his legions of loyal fans who followed him from humble beginnings in Akron, Ohio.

The steady word salad of disgust, hatred and generally loathing toward Mr. James has been quite interesting to watch, read, hear and see. I am not qualified to take a side, I do not know if he played the system, used it to his advantage or whatever. I just do not know that much about it…but…

What I have seen is an interesting parallel here. Mr. James has become the “spiritus mundi” of every factory closing, big business relocation, mass lay off and general hardship that plagues Ohio. Here, a person of humble beginnings, grown and nurtured in our back yard, making it to the big time….leaving…turning his back on his community, walking away from his dumbfounded followers.

Hmm, this tune sounds familiar. The funeral dirge from General Motors, Ford, Youngstown Steel and Tube, National Cash Register, The Lima Locomotive Works, Philips Display Components, AK Steel in Mansfield,  and now we can add a chorus about LeBron James.

All of these entities gave Ohioans hope. As did the hundreds of other business and industries that left our towns and cities, seemingly turning their backs on their neighbors.

Was Mr. James correct in his decision? For him, and his business of basketball, he believes it was the right call. We will simply have to wait and see if this move was the best.

Meanwhile we hear the prognosticators telling us what will happen next and the Cavaliers promising an NBA Championship. Again, parallels to our current economy? I have heard many left and right leaning political pundits making promises and many more offering up opinions on our problems, yet have we seen action that satisfies the masses?

In the end, it still goes back to people and the hurt and disappointment they feel. This is a real hurt, and a real disappointment. Not because of some talented basketball player leaving, but because in the one area they have chosen to find solace (the game of basketball), the ugly reality of our time shows up to steal our hot wings and drink our refreshments.

Always a good read.

August 5, 2008 Comments off

Robert Fulghum…I grew up on his works, and he still going strong:

It’s nice to see an author that has remained true to his “mission” if you will. Mr. Fulghum reports on life as he sees it. So refreshing.


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