The answer is not all that surprising
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:00 PM
What kind of industry should we seek for Montgomery County?
I have covered the news for a number of years and since October I have spoke many times with some of the retail business owners and managers.
My conclusion is -- no duh! -- it has to be a mix of traditional manufacturing sprinkled with some new technology. (No wonder my parents didn't name me Einstein, right?)
But think about it. I have heard arguments for focusing our attention on getting traditional factories in here. Many more hope that a focus on new technology will be good for the county. I'm not sure any of us fully understand what that new technology would look like, practically speaking. (My parents did name me Franklin, as in Benjamin Franklin.) We do know what traditional manufacturing looks like.
My concerns about new technology are:
How can we market what we have to companies that don't yet exist or are so new there is no way to know if they will make it.
Remember the dot-com boom (and bust) of a few years ago? Dot-com companies sold stock for hundreds of dollars a share because their ideas sounded so cool and just-can't-miss. But they missed. The companies were not financially viable.
Someday many of those ideas may contribute to making a lot of people a lot of money but as we all realize -- timing is crucial to everything.
Another concern I have is manpower. Not that we don't have enough trained people but we may have too many available workers.
Every time I hear an industry enthusiastically adopting a new technology, I wonder how many people will that new technology replace?
I don't think that really hit home until I saw videos of robots welding metal in a car factory.
I understand the people who were replaced were probably paid exorbitant wages that made those robots less expensive to do the same jobs but the hidden cost of technology is unemployment compensation paid to people who do not work because technology has replaced them.
The answer to unemployment is not to train people to program the computers and robots. The math doesn't support it. One programmer should be able to program many tools like robots that replace many manual labor jobs. There will be no place for those many laborers, no matter how much training they receive.
That is one reason why so many people are being encouraged to go into health care.
There are many old fogies like yours truly who, statistically, will need health care in the decades ahead. However, I'm going to fool them - I'm going to be like my grandfather and uncle who lived well into their 90s with few health issues.
Another concern I have is timing. We may one day support millions of people who work like George Jetson at Spacely Sprockets, pushing buttons and looking at a screen all day (in 1966 we didn't know that George was watching a computer screen powered by Microsoft or Apple.) But that day isn't here, yet.
Years ago I had a job that involved cataloging thousands of pieces of information for my personal library. I cataloged each item with pen and paper and then used that information for public speaking. It took thousands of hours to sort and make that information accessible.
I thought, "How great it would be if I had a personal computer that would allow me to search for any word in the title or chapter and pull up a list of possible articles and illustrations?" Most of us had not heard of the Internet in those days of the late 1970s and early '80s.
Now, if I want to find information for a news story, a column, a speech or any other use, I go to the Internet or more likely to my Evernote.com account and in a matter of seconds I have what I was looking for. I don't even have to type most things into Evernote. A quick cut and paste and I'm done. All those are immediately and effortlessly cataloged.
What does this have to do with the subject at hand? Technology has saved me thousands of hours by making information easily accessible. I would not have hired a person to do all that cataloging for me in the old days so no jobs were lost. But it proved to me how many jobs have been lost through technology.
Please understand, this has nothing to do with our educational system, with universities or, locally, Ivy Tech. I am glad they exist and I am delighted when someone receives a degree.
But there are manual labor jobs out there. We see examples every week on TV shows like "Undercover Boss." The CEO of a company goes undercover and works with people who do those manual labor jobs.
Those kinds of jobs can rejuvenate the economy of Montgomery County.
Frank Phillips is an advertising account representative for The Paper of Montgomery County. For nearly 20 years he has also reported on news in West Central Indiana.