Buying Made in America products whenever you shop is great, but how about Made in Erie County? With the dwindling number of manufacturing jobs in our area, is that even possible anymore? Can we rebuild Erie County employment and offer opportunities for high school and college graduates from local schools, or even attract some from elsewhere? Could we tap into the growing demand for Made in the USA with products made right here in Erie County? It’s certainly possible.
Start where we have an edge
It should be obvious by now, ever since moving their headquarters to Chicago, GE Transportation is steadily moving out of Erie. Locomotive production is going to both Texas and India and headcount at the Erie plant is dropping. While local officials like to think there’s something they can do about it, the decision is out of their hands and rather than trying to fight it or believe some offer will suddenly cause GE to turn around and come back, we could, instead, look forward and make the most of what we have.
Former GE employees and many other former factory workers from around the area are, quite literally, human capital, people with technical skills that can be applied in many ways making all kinds of products. Why not capitalize on that? Why not start where we have an edge? Will it be smooth and easy? Worthwhile change rarely is, but is it doable? Yes.
Manufacturing is not dead, but it’s changing
Those big, old abandoned or near empty buildings in the City of Erie and throughout the county are what people usually picture in their minds when someone says “factory.” Huge buildings, lots of big machines, that’s what a factory is, right? Well, it can be, but today, factories can be a lot smaller, in fact, you can have one in your garage or basement or spare room or in a shared “makerspace” in one of those former factories that used to employ hundreds or thousands of workers. The ability to make high quality, high tech, high precision products is now down to the individual level.
New business models
Politicians, and government officials in general, are stuck trying to use the old business models, they can’t help themselves, it’s what they do. If there’s a problem, they want to spend their way out of it, throwing your money at the government approved solution, like pitching millions of dollars at green energy and the imaginary jobs it creates while avoiding, at all costs, any alternative that doesn’t give them control of the outcome. Government debt grows and problems get worse.
If the direction Erie County chooses depends on an industry that only exists because the government spends money on it (like wind energy), then we become a dependent of the government, … a very poor choice.
It’s time to look at other ideas, new business models and new businesses altogether. If major corporations like GE are focused on a global presence with little concern for the communities where they traditionally had strong ties, then those communities have to look out for themselves if they want to survive. Spiffy plans for new condos, apartments and retail shops that fit into the government model have little use if jobs go away and potential owners, tenants and customers leave with them. Without businesses and jobs, no community can grow and prosper, it will simply be a matter of managing the decline. Depending on government grants to keep the money flowing into city and county coffers is a sure prescription for failure.
Tourism is fine, but …
There’s a lot of talk about tourism in the Erie area and it’s a fine thing when people come to Erie to see the sights and take advantage of Presque Isle, but as Erie declines, how do you keep the tourists coming? If tourism becomes a growing focus, how many jobs and career prospects will it provide for future high school and college graduates encouraging them to stay in the area? Will highly skilled technical workers find a solid career path forward in the hospitality industry? Can Erie compete with other cities for tourist dollars when growing and prosperous cities around the country are an easy plane ride away? It’s something to think about.
Prosperity does not come from the government
Government does not create prosperity, except in Washington, D.C., a region that inhales taxpayer dollars.
For the rest of the country, business creates the jobs that produce the income that people spend in their communities and everywhere else. Without a strong business presence and a business friendly environment, no amount of government planning will save you.
Make it small, make it fast, keep startup costs low
Erie County needs a new business focus. We need to make things again, not in massive factories employing thousands, but in small scale manufacturing companies, micromanufacturing companies, some even as small as one person. Instead of trying to convince a global company to locate in Erie or stay in Erie, in the time it takes to arrange a few meetings with those company executives, we can get a dozen micromanufacturers off the ground. Big government plans take forever and cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but business in the new economy has to move quickly, start small and keep costs low. It’s time for Erie County to shed the same old, tired, big spending ideas that no longer work and move ahead into the 21st century.