Sunday, October 05, 2008

Manufacturing vs Innovation?

I could not let this comment from last week's "Jobs Outlook" article go by without some comments of my own:
“Upstate is still feeling its way, moving from a manufacturing centered economy to an innovation economy, which is a long transformation process,” said Steve DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE economic development agency. “It doesn't happen overnight.”
"Innovation" economy? How much of this nonsense must we swallow?

The implication is that this is an "either/or" proposition . . . But manufacturing cannot thrive without innovation, so if you have one, you have the other. Look at all the great companies that once graced our landscape, and the ones that still survive . . .There was and still is plenty of innovation.

The implication is that we are moving on to something better . . . But what other than manufacturing is better suited for a region whose economy, infrastructure and institutions were based on manufacturing? What is our new role supposed to be? Is it finance? Education? Research? Something Else? "Innovation" is a nice sounding word that really doesn't mean anything when it comes to painting a picture of what our future should be like. For us in the Mohawk Valley, "innovation" will be "whatever is left after the process of 'natural selection' weeds everything else out" . . . which doesn't seem like much.

The implication is that this is inevitable . . . But is it? Even high-cost, poorly governed European countries such as Italy manage to keep manufacturing as an important part of the economy. How can they do it, and not us?

The implication is that this is acceptable - that manufacturing is no longer needed. But this is not only untrue, it is a dangerous position to take. We make very little these days, having exported much of our manufacturing capacity overseas. Western New York's steel mills and refineries have been shuttered. Textiles and clothing were once big in this area, but are now gone. Wouldn't another refinery be welcome in this age of $3.50/gal gas? . . . If we got into a war, how long would we be able to clothe ourselves? or build armaments?

In the Mohawk Valley, an "innovation economy" is trending toward one based on "service" jobs, government jobs, and health care jobs -- i.e., jobs that cater to the people that live here -- and jobs that require heavy subsidies from the taxpayers that live here. Given our long term population decline that shows no sign of abating, such an "innovation economy" looks pretty bleak.

Part of our problem stems from Washington. Mr. Arcuri and Mr. Hanna need to tell us what can or should be done on a national level to maintain the level of manufacturing capacity needed for self-defense. (And please, no rhetoric about creating "green" jobs.)

Most of our problem comes from Albany and locally. Manufacturing has been on the decline here long before NAFTA created Ross Perot's "great sucking sound."

I'm getting awfully tired of being asked to cough up money to support "Business parks" in New Hartford and a behemoth airport in Rome. Local government has become nothing more than a mechanism to transfer wealth from the taxpayers to a well-connected few.

The best thing local and state government can do is to spend less -- take less of the economy for itself and its friends and leave more in the hands of the private sector. People will put it to better use than the government ever could.


Anonymous said...

We get the scam that raised our sales taxes and then promote the guy who did it to higher office.

We talk about the ridiculous "shovel-ready site" for some mysterious chip maker that is about to be obliterated by NYRI.

We build a huge landfill operation to the north that we don't really need (NYC trash coming soon?).

We tax ourselves into near bankruptcy while paying the bills of a failed hotel.

We do all this and complain about those we elect - here's a thought - throw them all out of office! Can it possibly get any worse than it is with their incompetence / corruption than without it?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to blogs like Strike's here, we know the names. Election day is right around the corner.

Strike, I had to think a sec when you touched on Ross Perot. He was right wasn't he?