Local Governments vs Industry

Here’s an article about the attempt of Waukegan (IL) to drive out two companies that have been there for years: National Gypsum, which operates a wallboard plant, and Lafarge, which has a cement distribution center. The city wants to use the lakefront property for condos, restaurants, boating, and boutiques. It is attempting to use legislation to bar commercial vessels from the harbor, thereby cutting off NG’s source of supply and forcing it to close.

Steve Rogers, who manages the plant, points out that the workers are “not going to get an $18- to $20-an-hour job making mocha frappuccinos” if they lose their jobs at NG.

Most likely, the people pushing the redevelopment are very concerned about “working people” and are supportive of keeping manufacturing in the US. In theory.

This article reminded me of a post I did a couple of years ago regarding similar events in Seattle.

More at ShopFloor.org, including a link to an interesting video titled Made in Berkeley… apparently, artists and light industries have found common ground in the zoning wars of that city.

8 thoughts on “Local Governments vs Industry”

  1. I haven’t visited in many years, but when I lived in Chicago I used to bike up to Waukegan occasionally. I remember it as drab and industrial, but that was just the kind of place it was. As the WSJ article points out, the lakefront industrial facilities are there for good reason.

    I guess I don’t understand the attitude of these municipal central planners who want to transform a unique, productive and historically interesting lakefront into another yuppie boat harbor like all the other yuppie boat harbors on Lake Michigan. I think it would be more interesting to live in a condo with a nice view of vital lakefront industry. Why not encourage the factories to beautify their grounds, with a view to integrating industry and residential housing, and adding to the current tax base, rather than assume that industry and residential housing are mutually exclusive? These factories create wealth and jobs, yet city officials are ashamed rather than proud of them. Pity that the officials are so small minded and conventional in their vision.

  2. At this manufacturing blog, I came across a remark excerpted from Metalforming Magazine:

    “America does not like to make things anymore”

    …which got me wondering to what extent there is in fact a bias against manufacturing in the minds of many Americans. Here is a quote from a guy at Boston Consulting Group:

    “It’s just not cool to make things anymore”

    (Note that this quote dates from 1999, just before the high point of the dot-com boom.) Stephen Hardis, then chairman & CEO of Eaton Corporation, said that he often experimented at cocktail parties — comparing the response he gets when he introduces himself by talking about his educational background (positive), vs. as the head of a big industrial company (negative)

    “It’s not only considered dull,” he says, “there’s an intellectual disdain for people who go into industrial America. It’s as if they can’t make it in these other parts of the economy.”

  3. Mr. Foster,

    Your argument is of extreme importance and I guess a big concern for developed economies in the near future. The same reasoning – that the US has gained more than lost by transfering production to China – was expressed by Greenspan in a recent interview.

    It seems, though, that such reasoning fails to acknowledge how the operation of machinery allows for engineering improvements of related equipment, which may be as relevant a factor of technological development as theoretical research. Having moved their facilities to China, it seems only the Chinese will be able to enjoy this advantage, which they seem to do with proficiency.

    I for one would like to know how many facilities or enterpreneurs in China sever ties with foreign HQs to start their own ventures.

  4. The Hardis experiment (above) is very interesting. At the time of the experiment, Mr Hardis was not a recent graduate, he was about 64. I find it amazing that people would have been more impressed by his educatinal background (Princeton and Cornell) than by the fact that he was running a company with about $5 billion in market capitalization.

    Maybe Stephen Hardis was simply going to the wrong kind of cocktail parties. Or maybe something some systemic was revealed by this experiment.

  5. I think were are seeing a culture shift away from valuing people who produce material goods and towards valuing people who produce information or communication. The overwhelming role that all forms of media (news, entrainment, education etc) play in our day-to-day lives creates an opportunity for those who create this media to, consciously or not, denigrate everyone who does not produce media and to glorify themselves.

    One never sees people who make things, especially people who organize the making of things, portrayed in a positive light the news or in the arts. Instead, we see the glorification of people who produce persuasive communications portrayed in the most positive light. The heros of modern fiction are writers, lawyers, journalist, government officials, musicians etc. We don’t see the people who actually do the work, hands on or otherwise, that keeps the world working. Instead, we see the people who earn their living manipulating others through some form of communication.

    Even when we do see a maker portrayed, we see the them in the character of the geek or nerd, a skilled but unattractive and undesirable individual doomed to life of low status and loneliness.

    We are returning to the pre-industrial culture which valued adroit killers, theologians, mandarins and artist far more that it valued artisans, merchants and farmers.

    In my opinion. the greatest indicated that the 21st century could turn into the asian century in the relatively high status that Asian cultures currently give to engineers and business people. If our best and brightest minds become lawyers and theirs become engineers. guess who dominates in the long run.

  6. There are also professions that fall between the thing culture and the word culture. A computer programmer, for example, works with information, but he also works with “things” in that the meaning of the symbols he uses is unambiguous–unlike, say, the words used by the literary critic–and his work is subject to a fairly objective test–does the program run and do what it is supposed to do. But still, a programmer is usually not as “thingy” as a mechanical or even an electrical engineer.

    And the business-to-business salesman uses *words* as his tool just as much as the ad man or the Philosophy professor–but he is arguably closer to the world of the thing-makers because his evaluation is usually so quantitative and rigorous.

    Michael Barone’s book on Hard America and Soft America makes interesting reading.

  7. Could this be related to the increased empowerment of women? ON THE AVERAGE, women are less interested in making things than men are. And in our society, anything that is not of interest to the average woman gets devalued.

Comments are closed.