I came across a rather unique blog yesterday while mindlessly surfing the net during a flight layover. BoomtownUSA by Jack Schultz is about… you guessed it… boom towns. Apparently this guy just meanders around the country visiting small growing towns, getting to know the locals, and figuring out why they tick. How and why he’s on this adventure is a little hard to discern; it would be nice if the "about me" page had some explanation. But his writing has a nostalgic storytelling feel that keeps the reader very engaged in small-town minutae. I love small towns, which is one reason why I live in one now. Although Morro Bay isn’t exactly a boom town, with growth severely constrained by the ocean on one side, vineyards on the other, and exorbitant housing prices in the middle.
Just in the past week two of Jack’s posts have told the stories of towns that have grown as a direct or indirect result of lean manufacturing. First off there’s Duncan, Oklahoma, population 22,500.
Halliburton was an area manager for the premier oil well cementing company, Perkins Cementing, in California. He tried to talk the company into opening operations in burgeoning TX and OK and quit when they refused. He landed in Duncan when the Empire Field was discovered there in 1920. Jimmy told me, “He pawned his wife’s wedding ring in 1921 to build the Halliburton measuring line.”
Even though the corporate headquarters of Halliburton was moved to Houston in 1962, there are over 2,500 employees of the company in the town. I toured its 770,000 sf manufacturing center (1,250 employees) where virtually all of its big red oilfield service machines are manufactured and visited its 500 person worldwide R&D Center.
Greg Culp, director of manufacturing told me during the tour, “We have doubled our productivity in the past six years, since we started doing LEAN Manufacturing. Today, we can build a truck in 12 days, down from five weeks before. We’ve gone from 800 employees a year ago to 1,250 today.” Duncan is becoming a magnet for oilfield suppliers and manufacturers as a result of the cluster started by a decision made by Erle P. Halliburton almost 90 years ago.
Then we have Grove City, Pennsylvania, population 8,000.
General Electric is building their new green engine here. They build big diesel locomotive engines and other big engines here. They’ve been here about 25 years and continue to expand. They recently shipped 350 locomotive engines to Kazakhstan and are doing a similar export order to China. We also are seeing several of their suppliers move here because of GE’s Lean Manufacturing focus. Another company that is exporting more is Pine Instruments which makes testing systems and components. They have 100 employees and are also growing.
Grove City went through some tough times a decade ago when their major employer, Cooper Industries, which at one time employed over 2,000, closed their doors. At the same time their downtown retail stores were decimated by the opening of a major outlet mall on the outskirts of town. However, the town has rebounded with growth in the manufacturing sector and a downtown that today has very few vacancies. They’ve got some great retail, large concentration of manufacturing jobs (18% of the workforce), a superb college, wonderful location and beautiful scenery.
It’s good to hear about some small towns prospering thanks to manufacturing. I hate to think what it costs to ship 350 locomotives from Pennsylvania to Kazakhstan, but I’m glad GE recognizes that the knowledge of its employees outweighs the benefits of building a factory closer to some of its customers. We’ve taken the company to task in the past for being the leader of the outsourcer lemmings in many of its business segments.
Take a break and visit BoomtownUSA to read more stories of small town America.