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Posts Tagged ‘work force’

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.

Eric

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.

Eric

Viva The Patent Clerk

January 7, 2012 Comments off

We all recall that  Albert Einstein’s first big career move was as a Swiss patent clerk.

Oh the patent clerk, perhaps viewed upon at the time as the most menial of Swiss civil professional roles. Einstein struggled, even within this career at first, being denied a promotion (how would you like that on your resume, “Denied promotion to Albert Einstein”).

A patent office….hmmm. As our country recovers from this “Great Recession” as it is now known, perhaps the answer to our problem does not lie within a great lecture hall or capital rotunda, but within our own US Constitution.  In fact, check out Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution.

In 1787, the first Constitutional Convention approved (with a unanimous vote) what became the “patent clause”. This obscure little clause authorized the new US government to: “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

It is also interesting that by the early 1800’s, the United States was issuing more patents then our nation of origin, Great Britain and that those patents were leading to job creation and job growth…increasing our overall economic might.

We’ve been a nation of innovators since the birth of this country with the first colonies. We’ve adapted, we’ve changed, we’ve grown and we’ve made mistakes and learned from that. Those mistakes have allowed our creative classes to ask new questions about old problems. The stereo-typical inventor of the past (either Thomas Edison or Professor Philip Brainard from the movie Flubber) allowed themselves to do just that, ask a new question about an old problem.

That old problem (whether it be career, where to find a cure for cancer, how to grow tomatoes better, or even our education system) begs to be revisited again with a fresh perspective. Those that ask the questions, and can be allowed to nurture their ideas, will be the ones to lead us all into a new era of this country.

Eric

Coopetition

April 3, 2011 Comments off

Yes, my spelling is correct.

The above is a term I heard recently, from of all places, a NASCAR race. Commentator Darrel Waltrip was commenting on how teams use “coopetition” when they draft other drives on the race track. Come to find out, Mr. Waltrip must read up on the trends found in business and economy.

Interesting, helping each other while still challenging the other to win.

I began using this term a few months ago to describe the era in which we are within for our region. Since that time I’ve started to research exactly what this concept means for me and the work I do. The term has been used in various forms since 1913. Gaining a bit more acceptance in 1944. The term quietly remained as a theoretical construct.

As you’ve seen posted here before, there are several themes we are dealing with here in the Cornfields of northwest Ohio. However, two stand out more so then the others. Namely, the redefinition of manufacturing and what that means for our regional economy, and the perceived loss of our young talented work force. Both of which have been covered in publication after publication. Great data and ideas…but…

Yes, the dreaded “…”, in other words, we have not yet been able to really to understand these changes well enough to implement ideas to bring the ideas to life.

Last Friday, Dr. Gee, The Ohio State University’s bow tie wearing president spoke at the regional OSU campus. His thoughts, the university system needs to create programs to keep our young people here. However, this is only one aspect of the conversation. We can build the road to travel, but it has to lead somewhere…I am not sure we are there yet.

But back to coopetition, its the over reaching idea of taking a regionalized approach to education and economic development.This requires a new approach, a change, and we all know how that can feel.

Charles Darwin said that: “It is not the strongest species that will survive, nor the most intelligent, but rather the ones most responsive to change. ”

Despite our fear of the unknown, we still must walk slowly toward this reality. If we help one another, yet maintain our own goals and desires, we will recreate our communities for our leaders of tomorrow.
Eric

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…

Eric

 

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…

Eric

Where has all the innovation gone?

November 5, 2010 Comments off

In 1925, something very peculiar rolled out of the gate at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio.  (ED- For those of you who may not know, Lima was once home to one of the worlds largest manufactures of steam locomotives. The sprawling Lima Locomotive Works, known to the community as the “Loco”, was Lima’s calling card to the world.) Something about this steam locomotive caught the eyes of the yard crew assigned to move this locomotive to its first testing grounds,  the hilly Albany Division of the New York Central Railroad.

The engine was known as the A-1.  This was the prototype of what became known as Lima “Superpower” locomotives. With radical redesign of basic elements of steam locomotives at the time, this engine generated 69, 400 lbs of tractive effort (the “pull” if you will). Considering the size of the the locomotive, this was a 33% increase in power. This was a remarkable achievement.

Simply put, Lima broke the mold and began a new era in railroad technology…and just in time too…for the world was hurtling toward WWII and the demand on the railroads would be at its zenith.

Here is an example of Superpower in action, the Nickle Plate Road steam locomotive, 765, thunders through the Cuyahoga Valley on a recent excursion.

“Breaking the mold”…a term that implies chucking the “old way” and doing something new, rethinking the problem, rediscovering the thrill of creativity. Innovation.

Where have all the innovation (and innovators) gone?  The process for small business development, the loans, the paper work, makes it nearly impossible for people to implement a new idea. In an era of fear (and this is not fear mongering, this is fact if you listen to anyone in business and industry), stepping out of the box could lead to disastrous results.

I am not content with this paradigm. In our little corner of the globe, as I’ve mentioned before, our personal skill sets and brain power has a great amount of depth. We are surrounded by educational institutions, infrastructure, space, and low tax rates…plus, people WANT to work and want to see change (believe it or not).

These are all dots in a connect the dots picture. A picture of opportunity that is generated by those of us in this region, not by a program from Columbus or Washington.

Pencils and crayons anyone?

Eric

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