Posts Tagged ‘Thoughts’

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.


Creative Conservatism

January 11, 2012 Comments off

Any regular readers of my blog will know I have passionate views about certain trends we’re witnessing in our times. One note that resonates loudly many times over in my posts is the concept of creativity (or the lack there of).

Take for example this recent post in Wired Magazine…“Killing America’s Dreams, One Lousy Concept Car at a Time”.

The Detroit Auto Show has always been a glimpse into the future of automobiles, which in turn gave us pause to consider the future of everything.  But now it seems that the designers have stepped back into what I call creative conservatism. Dare we throw out our ideas and they are not accepted by the intelligentsia.

So here we are in 2012. We have batches of engineers and designers that likely came of age within the  hyper-testing culture of the U.S. education system. They have been asked to remember facts and regurgitate onto exams to make sure they are “proficient”. However in those mass production zones of schools, creativity has been educated out of most children.

In this blog title, you see the phrase, “Dreams roll across the heartland…” This line is part of the song “Middletown Dreams” by the Canadian rock group Rush. The song goes to explain the dreams most middle class Americans have about their possible lives, and the realities of their times. The great conflict between following your dreams or abiding by standard social convention.

Looking at the cars in this years car show, its clear to me this conflict is alive and well in our modern society.


The Midwest High Speed Rail Legacy

January 30, 2011 Comments off

With all the changes taking place in state government, the issue of the 3-C high speed rail corridor looks to be shelved once again. This is unfortunate, however, all along the misnomer of true “high speed” was an issue. Since the start up of this project would have used conventional passenger train cars and operated over freight railroad lines, the time savings and convenience may or may not have been apparent. The true project would have been to build an entirely separate infrastructure. After all, it has been done before here in Ohio.

Yes, Ohio was once home to a vast network of dedicated, high speed rail lines. It was known as the “Interurban”.

Below is a 1906 map of Ohio and the interurban lines that crisscrossed the state.

Impressive? Yes, and this was not even at the zenith of the systems development. After 1906, several hundred more miles of track were placed into service. The interurban were electric powered, high speed for there era (average running of 70 mph), frequent and customer centered. Not only were they clean and “green”, but they offered services unheard of at that time, such as same day delivery of goods and services.

The interurban lines tied together not the big cities, but the small towns and allowed commerce to take place on a micro level. This is a departure from what we think of in terms of high speed rail, major city to major city being the norm. The small electrically powered cars could accelerate much more quickly than long lumbering steam trains, so they could make many more frequent stops and still maintain a reasonable schedule. This flexibility allowed farmers living along the tracks, or merchants in small towns the ability to get on or off just about anywhere, rather than at stations spaced several miles apart. Also, most interurban lines scheduled trains every hour, with a few extra runs during busy periods. This much improved frequency, with many more stops, decent speed, and somewhat lower fares than mainline railroads (about 1/2 to 2/3 the cost for the same distance) allowed many more people to travel who couldn’t before. It was finally possible to a farmer’s wife or the small town family to take a trip into the big city for some shopping or to go to the theater and not have to spend the night in a hotel. Merchants and salesmen could travel between many more towns than before, and deliveries of express freight and milk could be made in a few hours.

The interurban would enter a small town and normally run up the main street, having a  “car stop” at the local hotel, store front or other business that was the designated location. The convenience factor was outstanding, the ability to tie together the region unprecedented.

The privately owned companies received no subsidies or stipends from the communities. Revenue was generated by fare and parcel post costs. Since these revenues were precarious, and since the industry was never particularly profitable to begin with, it didn’t take much of a drop in passenger traffic to send a company into receivership. Many companies never paid dividends on their stock and were saddled with debt throughout their whole existence. Without government subsidy (as found in the fledgling highway construction and auto industries at that time), the system faced a uncertain future.

So what happened?

With the growth of car travel, there was increasing pressure in the 1920s and 30s to get the rails off the roads. Towns began to see the tracks in their streets as a nuisance, especially as the traction companies began deferring maintenance of the road between their rails as required by franchise agreements. Out in the country, state and county governments tried to close down some of the interurbans so they could use their right-of-way to widen the adjacent roads. There was also growing investment in electric utilities, and many interurbans were bought out by syndicates and investors whose primary interest was in the electrical infrastructure, not the railroad.

The Great Depression was the final blow and after the late 1930’s, most lines were ripped up and their right of ways turned into new road ways. The interurban cars were scrapped and the electric substations re-purposed. Their impact on our region was substantial and profound, yet, their existence short lived. One can only wonder the “what if”…

Today, one can still find the remains of this interurban system. For example, State Route 65 between Columbus Grove and Ottawa, Ohio, was built on the right of way of the Cincinnati and Lake Erie. Careful observers can find bridge abutments, substations and even power lines of these transportation marvels.

Its often said that what was once old is new again and this idea holds true for high speed rail.


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.

A Bear in the Market

July 12, 2010 Comments off

A very interesting  chart with the Bear Markets from the past few years. Is the worst over? Not so sure…but the trend may turn around.

At moments like this, I like to think back to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the closing song:

“Always look on the bright side of life…”


Learning is Not Linear

June 25, 2008 Comments off

I was watching our six month old play this morning and realized how he is taking information. His brain is not in an orderly fashion, but works in a random events, connected by countless links to other pieces of information (sound familiar?).

So, this challenges the idea that learning is a linear process, much like we teach it in the traditional college environment. In other words, we start at point A and move to point B, etc…learning is not this way…at least in the six month old brain. I am willing to bet that it’s the same for all of us…we are just TAUGHT differently.

Where does this lead me? Not sure yet, but I am beginning to rethink how I do things in an educational context.

Categories: Education Issues Tags: , ,
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