Editorial

Creative Class millennials will pay dearly for folly of manufactured political ‘issues’

October 21, 2016
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Grand Rapids Business Journal reporting on the manufacturing sector over 30 years provides a deep well of information and reporting on the transformation that has been occurring in the West Michigan economy since the 1980s. Reporting on a panel discussion hosted by the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, the Business Journal summarized the position held by Fred Keller of Cascade Engineering, The Right Place Inc. and the president of Grand Valley State University: The manufacturing sector is changing fast, and it’s changing forever. The change can’t be blamed on just China or Mexico; technological advances have given manufacturers the ability to do things quicker, faster and with fewer employees. The date was 2004, four years prior to the housing crash and the Great Recession.

Fast forward to the Business Journal report on one of the region’s largest manufacturers employing 15,000 U.S. workers, and the robotic and technological advances well ensconced as part of Whirlpool’s continuous improvements and expansions. The Business Journal reports: Whirlpool vice president of integrated supply chain and National Association of Manufacturers board member James Keppler emphasized, despite all the technology advancements taking place at Whirlpool’s factories, the company still is in need of human talent, even as the size of its workforce remains mostly flat. “There probably isn’t a U.S. manufacturer that doesn’t have an issue with skilled labor, especially due to the improvement of the economy and unemployment drop.”

Since the 1980s, the evolution from manufacturing to a knowledge economy has been cited and documented time and again, perhaps most often referenced by “The Rise of the Creative Class” by Richard Florida. Now 30 years later, Sen. Gary Peters and Michigan Economic Development Corp. are refueling millions of additional taxpayer dollars for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Improvement Act even while public education allocations remain woefully inadequate. Michigan and the U.S. — indeed manufacturers — need knowledgeable workers coming from schools and universities. The tremendous funding void and disparity will have a profound impact for at least another generation, creating even more debt for the millennials to suffer. A generation of children poorly prepared by education for even currently existing positions in manufacturing assures the continued drain of knowledge-based jobs from this region, from Michigan and across the U.S.

Continued political rallies for taxpayer incentives for manufacturing — while depleting education funding — is an indefensible ruse that will require even greater sacrifice by the millennial generation for its ill-fated result. 

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