The future of Industry and manufacturing in this country is not as bleak as it seems.
Coal Production in this country is doomed and not just because of unhealthy emissions. The coal industry as a whole is being swallowed up by evolving changes in the focus of countries around the world to convert their energy sources to more renewable and affordable products. Because there is so much investment by companies to produce products such as solar, wind and natural gas, there is now and in the future a far more lucrative and diverse market place than there would be for fossil fuel and products that use fossil fuels as an ingredient (such as plastic).
There is little chance that any time soon our country will make a full transition to energy that leaves a basically non-existent carbon trail signature in our atmosphere. Along with the most obvious being cars, most companies will continue to use oil or gas related products in their operations at least until conversions make good business sense. We have to remember that for companies small and large, their investments in capital equipment and the ability to deduct from their tax obligation the depreciation of that equipment doesn’t give a significant incentive for companies to change. The government until lately has been imposing regulations to motivate those that have been resistant to change. Who knows when the time will be right for most businesses to make a significant change.
I have heard that a large part of the economic growth in not only our country, but countries around the world can be attributed to new technology applied to every part of their culture including energy. These advances are not only economically beneficial, but they have also created opportunities for a better quality of life.
There are so many complicated variables that effect jobs, pay, benefits and longevity. The fact is that all jobs are tied to the success or failure of the companies that provide them. Being fluid and not fixed, payroll and related costs are the single largest expense component of any company, This in part explains why companies are open to outsourcing production including labor. There is also a portion of companies within the US who relocate there operations to different locations within the country in order to reduce their labor expenses. Most of these moves are a result of locating or relocating to states or cities that have a cheaper labor market not bound by the prices of organized labor.
Like I say, we could spend a couple years in college learning all of the factors and principles that make up business and labor in this country.
Most of us understand the simple concept of any business. Build a product or create a service that is in demand and sell that product to customers for a profit. A “customer” comes in many different forms. For instance coal and corn companies don’t just sell to customers within the country, they generate a major part of their income by exporting their goods to foreign customers. Their business structure is based on the simple concept of supply and demand rather than American produced, American sold.
Many companies such as grocery stores and restaurants make their money by selling to customers who work within these local industries. In turn grocery store and restaurant workers are customers of the local clothing store and so on and so on.
One of the major reason that communities are wiped out by the closing of a business is that they are dependent on the success of a single or very few businesses in order for their existence. It really doesn’t matter why a company fails, the impact on the community is the same. If a small community relies on, let’s say a horseshoe manufacturer to provide for a majority of their economy, it would make sense that as the business goes, so goes the community. If these towns and cities could attract more than one business, their exposure to failure is reduced. Using the horseshoe example, if a town also was supported by a saddle manufacturer and a steel nail manufacturer, this diversity would provide more security. Add to that the community could better thrive by hosting say an annual rodeo using the identity of the local businesses. To make a simple comparison on how multiplication works, you could look at any larger city to see how this concept plays out. If you had a business in Los Angeles and it failed, the impact on the community would probably not have much effect on the economy. On the flip side however, your chances of succeeding are increased just by the sheer number of customers you would have access to.
With the coal industry, labor is made up of local workers who have been following in the footsteps of many generations before them. The work is hard, frequently unhealthy yet is the source of work for almost everyone in the coal producing community.
All of this brings me to a larger point about jobs. The dominate industries of today and the future will be built around evolving technologies. Renewable energy will probably be the most common and well known industry we speak to everyday.
Surprising to most, the US is experiencing a very significant shortage of qualified workers. There are tens of thousands of jobs that remain unfilled. Jobs range from technical to health care. A majority of these jobs are good paying middle class jobs. Unfortunately, a majority of job candidates are unwilling or unable to pursue these positions. Sometimes it is a simple as a person not entertaining a change in vocation. Sometimes recruiting for these jobs does not include many people outside their industry.
No matter what the industry, there are positions open to those who have been brought up through more traditional trades. If you build a solar farm, along with traditional factory workers you still need engineers; you still need machinists, mechanics, equipment operators, electricians, plumbers, steel workers, wood workers and all of the construction trades. You also need all of the same administrative infrastructure as you would within old school industries. The biggest challenge is to get the workforce trained to adapt to the new technology and methods. In the case of the highly publicized unemployed coal worker, they are going to have a harder time being able to get trained and put to work, even if the newer employer is located within the community. Since most coal and other product specific workers have no substantial skills that could translate, the cost and time involved in training can be cost prohibitive to some companies. On the other side of the coin, the average coal worker can’t afford to go through a lengthy training cycle. These workers and their families need to make money right away, not at the end of the rainbow. As it stands now, the coal industry is set to disappear. Corporations and special interests are doing whatever they can to convince the world that their product is still important. Funny thing, coal exports to countries who have very serious pollution and emissions problems. All of these countries except 3 (including the US) are committed to reducing the effects of pollution and global warming within their cultures. These commitments don’t reinforce the future of industries such as coal. Sorry, I got off track for a second.
At the end of the day, when it comes to opportunity, the world is changing and mostly for the better. At some point the changes we make to grow along with the change will become the norm, not so much fraught with fear and uncertainty. If you step back and think about how solid and talented the overall work force in our country is, you may not be so quick to be bogged down. We will always have to work to address the problems and crisis we as a country are exposed to every day. Their is little chance that the world will realistically change and become a world filled with global peace and harmony. Just as with many other milestones in our history, the American worker including the middle class will grow and prosper.