The skilled person and the entrepreneur

March 19, 2008
By: Tim Heston

A Sunday profile in the Detroit Free Press sparked some reader emotion, judging by the 200 comments the story received within a day. It"s about a welder, Detroit resident George Dreher, his family, and the Michigan economy.

"He hates asking for helpwhether it"s the government or relatives or anyone elseand has sold off most of his possessions. The 55-year-old welder can"t support his family and can"t imagine the future, the article said.

Damn it, give me a job, Dreher told the newspaper. I don"t need help. Just give me a job.

But waita welder? Doesn"t this country have a chronic shortage of those? Individual circumstances may differ, but in George Dreher"s case, the resumes go out, few if any calls come in, and he lacks resources to relocate.

As gut-wrenching as this story is, what really drew me was the string of comments on the Web site, long even for a large metro daily. Many offered advice and told stories of similar experiences,relocation challenges, and hard times in general. Through them all ran an undercurrent of frustration: They wish they could help.

The frustration seemed to hinge on the economic realities of globalization; if a company can make more long-term profit by manufacturing elsewhere, it will. Note: long-term profit is key. I"ve spoken with many job shop owners who say they work with companies that outsourced overseas and then came back, simply because they found they could run a better business by staying stateside.

Consider Uzelac Industries, a Greendale, Wis., metal fabrication company covered in Monday"s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Since launching the company five years ago, Michael Uzelac has doubled his original floor space and bought $400,000 worth of machinery. He plans to double his sales to $8 million within five years. The company makes, among other products, stainless steel dryers for wastewater treatment plants. These things are big, the article said, and expensive to ship. In Uzelac"s case, locality matters.

The economy has been kind to the Michael Uzelacs of the worldbut what about the world"s George Drehers? Sometimes it"s been downright cruel. According to the Free Press article, a year ago Dreher worked briefly for a trucking company. I went to work every day teaching a young kid to weld, he told the reporter. As soon as the kid learned, they let me go.

I"m sure there"s more than one side to it, but taken at face value, I feel that quote is the most disturbing part of Dreher"s story. Not everybody can be an entrepreneur, like Uzelac, and not everyone can be an experienced, skilled craftsperson, like Dreher, but in manufacturing you can"t have one without the otherand neither should be taken for granted.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314