Halftime observations reveal highs and lows for consideration

July 15, 2011
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Reflecting upon the past several years, one would have to recognize that what once was will never be again, that doing things the way they have always been done will not generate long-term prosperity.

In passing its halfway point, 2011 has revealed some interesting highs and lows that warrant consideration.

While the reasons for our weak economy have been analyzed, interpreted, detailed and revealed by numerous experts, it seems that “blame” is always laid at the feet of an ambiguous “previous administration.”

The failure to accept personal responsibility for actions taken while in a leadership position is troubling. In business, individuals making mistakes or failing to meet established expectations receive corrective action that may result in termination, should positive change be lacking. It seems that our elected officials (regardless of their political affiliation) spend more time establishing blame than resolving problems — more time pointing fingers outwardly than toward themselves.

I question the example our children see when elected officials continue to say, “It’s not my fault!” rather than “I’ll fix it.” When we see the “buck passing” and “blame games” that our elected officials engage in, why are we surprised when our children are suspicious of leadership and fail to take responsibility for their actions?

How can we expect alternative energy sources to emerge when we place insurmountable roadblocks in their paths? How can we harness the wind’s energy when everyone wants turbines placed in someone else’s backyard? How can nuclear energy grow when it takes nearly 10 years to approve and build a new power plant? 

Renewable energy sources are part of the solution, yet wood-burning furnaces have been restricted in many communities because they create too much pollution. Coal has always been a relatively inexpensive source of energy, yet we are shutting our mines down and telling our miners “thank you for your service but your product creates too much environmental risk.” It seems we want to create an “electrical alternative” without an available infrastructure, shutting down rather than modifying current technology in favor of a future solution we are not prepared to implement. 

Small companies are expanding and production is returning to plants that are operating with fewer people making more things. Since efficiency is up, expanded opportunities will not likely return our work force to previous levels. New companies are entering our region but employees able to do available work are coming with the company from outside our current work force. This discrepancy creates new challenges for our “work force developers” but our economic growth will be stifled unless we take steps to coordinate the needs of “job producers” with the abilities our workers possess. 

Automotive suppliers are leading the charge within our fragile economy with responsive, innovative suppliers assuming much new business. Our furniture industry has yet to fully recover as the nation has higher than average available office space, but new products and the adaptation of existing products to emerging markets is helping that sector rebound.

The service-sector is growing, yet many nonprofits depending on state funding are concerned. I was at a meeting of nonprofits recently where I heard, “The private sector recession is over — the public sector recession has just begun.”

Our economy is improving but balances precariously on edge with any shift or delay from current growth trends poised to deal a staggering blow to our recovery.

Most companies moved away from “across the board” pay adjustments during the past several years, providing increases only to those critical to the operation or being grossly underpaid in relation to the market. As the economy improves, companies expect higher turnover as workers seek “greener pastures” elsewhere. Some say they expect at least one-quarter to one-half of their work force to actively seek other employment.

The Employers’ Association is helping many progressive organizations update policies, practices and compensation systems to insure internal equitability, external competitiveness and reasonable consistency in the way employees are treated. Others, however, are moving cautiously into the future relying on outdated infrastructure, policies and practices — on course to be “left behind” in the race towards a brighter future.

Long-term success always has (and always will) come to ethical people who produce an excellent product and/or provide exceptional service at a competitive price. Though our region’s economic engine has not yet returned to “full steam ahead,” it is rumbling to life. As with any sustained growth period, however, things do not make a difference: People do. Individual ideas, expectations, dreams and actions make the engine of economy run. People matter as they leverage technology to make a difference. 

The “whole” can only be as strong as its collective parts — can move forward only when individuals assume responsibility for the actions they take to make their dreams become reality. Individuals can move mountains when they believe it possible —and take action to make it happen.

Think how much more we could accomplish if we were to channel our individual thoughts into collective action. Do not let summer pass without acting on the goals you set while snow was still on the ground. Seasons pass without our influence, but dreams and ideas can become reality only when we act upon them.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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