On C-SPAN Radio over the weekend I heard an interesting speech given by the CEO of Dow Chemical titled Energy, Manufacturing and the Future of the American Economy. The speech was delivered by Andrew N. Liveris, Chairman & CEO, at the Detroit Economic Club on October 30, 2006. (The above link is to a pdf transcript on the Dow Chemical web site; I have not yet located a link to a podcast of the speech and will post it here if I do; it’s a good speech and well worth listening to.)
One of the basic reasons I was attracted to the ideas in the speech is that I deal a lot with information technology related ideas in my consulting, writing, and research. Earlier in my career it was quite different; I spent a lot of time with manufacturers of appliances, automobiles trucks, computers, and medical equipment, primarily because they were seeking to create competitive advantage and operational efficiencies via information technology.
Listening to Liveris’ speech reminded me of those experiences. In fact, one of his three key points was to emphasize the continued importance of the manufacturing sector to our quality of life. Even in a service economy, he pointed out, people need to manufacture stuff.
Another of his key points was the devastating impact energy prices are having on manufacturing and how that puts the U.S. at a disadvantage, especially given our dependence on natural gas and imported oil for supporting the manufacturing sector, He calls quite strongly for a national energy policy not only to free our dependence on foreign oil but also to provide sustainable resources whose costs are reasonable and competitive.
His strongest comments are targeted at what he sees as the slipping competitiveness of they U.S. in terms of the cost of labor and education levels. Most chilling is his statement that, of an entire list of manufacturing facilities currently being planned in the world, not one is slated for construction in the U.S. The impact is clear, he says; those high paying jobs are going to go elsewhere.
Now, I’m not sure I agree politically with all his statements but, as I noted above, I think it’s a good idea for those of us who are so involved with information technology, information management, and knowledge work, to keep in mind the role that manufacturing plays. As Liveris points out, someone has to manufacture stuff.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald