I received a letter from the UAW last week that was both pleasing and perplexing. I had asked Carly Murdy, Director of the UAW Education Department, to read my book, Rebirth of American Industry, and give me her comments. She did so, saying, "It is not enough to say it is a good book. It should be required reading for all business schools and masters programs." That is the pleasing part. The book is about lean manufacturing management and there are parts of it that are pretty critical of the unions. Her praising it anyway sent both Ms. Murdy and the UAW up a few notches in my estimation.
The perplexing part was that she went on to say, "A call to action must not only be between unions and corporations, but with communities who have a stake in the success of the workers and management." I have to fess up to the fact that I am often slow to catch on, and her urging a call to action in the area of lean manufacturing management for communities left me scratching my head. It took me a few days to get my limited mental faculties around the idea.
An article in the Ada, Oklahoma Evening News the other day clicked on the light. It is titled, "Wooing retail before manufacturing puts the horse before the cart". The author of the article – who unfortunately did not put his or her name on it, is explaining to the good people of Ada why the money they cobbled together from a local tax should go to building manufacturing infrastructure, rather than for building retail stores and restaurants. It says:
"Imagine a scenario in which a small town has one large manufacturing plant that employs half of the town’s workers, and one large retail store that employs the other half. If the retail store pulled out, the manufacturer and the town could still exist. But if the manufacturer shut down it would signal the death of the manufacturer, the retail store and the town. Without the payroll generated by the manufacturer, there is no reason to have the retail store."
Brilliant, succinct and right on point. We would all be better off if more people read the Ada Evening News, instead of the Wall Street Journal. It also reminded me of the role local folks can play in manufacturing.
The article prompted me to recall another piece a few months back recounting how the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida hosted a Regional Workforce Summit and invited Jim Womack to speak to the local movers and shakers. Womack correctly pointed out that, "Mayor John Peyton and City Council President Kevin Hyde have taken an important first step in initiating a conversation on workforce strategies. Government can make its biggest impact on the workforce by providing forums like Tuesday’s summit where workforce problems can be candidly discussed. Public schools could also help by teaching children the basics of creating value for customers."
Putnam, Connecticut hosted a lean manufacturing education program last Fall; the City of Lafayette, Indiana did something similar last summer. Rockford, Illinois is helping manufacturers become lean, as is LaCrosse, Wisconsin. People from the Northeast Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center and the Army have developed lean training for deaf folks in their area. Lean is becoming a community issue all over America.
The old speaker of the house, Tip O’Neil said, "All politics are local". So is manufacturing. Changing the direction of the country is tough – maybe impossible – but Carly Murdy at the UAW is right. The whole community does have a stake in the success of lean manufacturing. We can all go downtown and bend the mayor’s ear, or go to the school board meeting, or talk to the dean at the local community college, or meet with the local economic development team. Take the big shot from the local union hall with you when you go. Tell ’em Carly said it was OK to work with us on this one.