The story you are about to read is true. The names and places herein have not been changed to protect the innocent. You can check the facts yourself.

 

Imagine you are driving East on Eight-Mile Road in Warren, Michigan on a pleasant September afternoon to visit a friend. You had quit your job in May so you could enjoy a three-month vacation. But now you are thinking of returning to work. You see the GE Specialty Materials plant on your left, and on impulse, you decide to turn in and apply for a job. You immediately meet the personnel manager who gives you a preliminary interview, then summons an engineering manager to interview you for a design engineering position that has been open for a few weeks. Never mind that you do not have an engineering degree—yet. You are a darn good technician. After taking a test, you are hired as a design engineer, and you are to report for work the very next morning.

 

Sound incredible? In today’s job market, it is probably ten thousand to one or more that such a scenario could happen, but not in 1962 or all of the 1950s and 1960s. It really happened to me and hundreds of other technical people like me. Why cannot this happen today? Because thousands of buildings like the GE plant along Eight-Mile Road, and businesses in other manufacturing districts throughout the U.S. no longer exist. Why do you think this is so? Because, I think, some really smart corporation owners and presidents, CEOs, and members of Boards of Directors decided to move their operations off shore. Those businesses are not in your home town anymore. And now, our country is ready to dry up and blow away because these geniuses decided to have their products made for less cost in a foreign country to keep the product “competitive” (in fact, ridiculously low-cost!). And they appear to have no social responsibility or regard for the well being of our country and all the employees that could have worked for them.

 

But, finally, that picture may be changing. U.S. consumers are getting fed up with cheap appliances and products that fail before their time. What the geniuses don’t seem to understand is that many consumers are willing to pay more for a higher quality product and sacrifice other hard goods for that benefit. Nobody asked me if I could live with that tradeoff! Well, I certainly can. For example, I recently read an article in another trusted magazine about an audio component manufacturer that had a part manufactured in China, which kept breaking within the relatively short warranty period. The problem almost put that small company out of business because it had to recall and replace thousands of units that contained the defective part. The wise owner investigated the situation and discovered that he could easily redesign the troublesome part to be much more robust. Furthermore, he moved the manufacturing operation back to the U.S. Unfortunately, the move would increase the unit cost 50%. But he did it anyway and surprise, surprise! His sales increased! Now, significant numbers of other manufacturers, including major appliance manufacturers, appear to be making the same move. Can any experts in my audience tell us why returning manufacturing like this to the U.S. is a bad thing for the world’s economy or for the U. S.? Let’s hear from some CEOs. Please post your comments on Engineering Exchange.

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