Monthly Archives: November 2006

Meeting People the Old Fashion Way (Liberated from email!)

One of the great things about doing this magazine is finding out that people actually read it, and some even like it.

I received a call from Paul Ikasalo, the manufacturing manager at F.H. Peterson of Stoughton, Massachusetts. Paul liked my Swarf piece in November when I declared my self-exile from the email world. He called me at 708-535-2200 and on my cell phone (708-380-8530) to say hello and endorse my email boycott. He hates the sterility and pollution of web messaging. We had a hearty conversation for twenty minutes discussing the business approach at his sixty-person job shop near Boston. Peterson does short-run stuff. Medical apparatus is an important component of their business. They run old school toolroom equipment, but have invested in CNC Toshiba boring mills in recent years, which are now their core machining capability. Business is good. They have been able to hold on to their machinists over a long period of time because they pay well and listen.

I also had a great conversation with Scott Volk of MetalQuest in Hebron, Nebraska, near Lincoln. He wanted to talk about my “radical proposal” Afterthought column regarding enlistment of young people in the machining world. He is heavily involved in an outreach effort at a local high school and junior college to tell them about the cool opportunities available. He says there is an active group of grass roots communicators in Nebraska and Kansas who are quickly getting traction in recruiting students into a manufacturing track. Their approach has been to get to know career counselors and invite kids into their factories for show and tells. When kids see the fun stuff in today’s CNC shops, they bite. He says local junior colleges have filled their manufacturing-oriented classes to overflowing, because kids can see the payback.

Paul and Scott love the thrill of making things that are important. This is the story of manufacturing which has been so poorly told to the uninitiated french fry fryers of America. The new world of customized manufacturing, which is coming soon to a company or a war near you, is going to open up more opportunities, as making things when and where they are needed eliminates the advantage of off-shore manufacturing.

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Can We Stop a Culture of Failure?

In the last few days, in New York and Chicago there have been killings of young African-American men by the police, inciting the black communities in those cities. Neither victim was a hardcore criminal. It is quite possible both young men were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were confronted by cops who were extremely scared.

It is a lousy time to be a young black man in America.

I write this from the vantage point of a well-off 61 year-old white guy who happens to live right next door to Black America. I get a pretty good view of it right over my fence in the Village of Olympia Fields, Illinois.

Olympia Fields is now a predominantly African American community. The elementary school adjacent to my house is made up of over 85 percent black students. The high school Rich Central, within walking distance of my house, is also over 85 percent black. The villagers’ homes (there are no apartments) range from $200,000 to $500,000, except for a few which have been gerrymandered into another school district that has less black students – those are more valuable on the market.

I see an interesting phenomenon now in Olympia Fields. Black people are moving out because they don’t want to send their children to the predominantly black schools of Olympia Fields.

One African-American friend of mine, who is looking for a new home now, told me he would not buy in my village because he doesn’t want to pay the “tax.” I asked him what the “tax” was, and he said the tax was the cost of sending his children to private school.

My longtime next door neighbor recently moved because she was afraid to send her daughter to Rich Central high school. She thought the crowd would be bad for her daughter’s development.

I look at the South Suburbs of Chicago where I live, and I conclude sadly that while life has gotten much better economically for many African-Americans over 30, it looks grim for the younger generation. The irony is that our next president may be Barock Obama and that the most influential person in the Bush Cabinet is Condoleezza Rice; and the heads of American Express, Time-Warner and Merrill-Lynch are black.  Ken Williams, general manager of the Chicago White Sox, and Tony Dungy, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, are symbols of the triumph of my generation’s black American peers.

It is encouraging to read Juan Williams and John Ridley laud the black achievers and decry the culture of victimization that has overtaken a new generation of African-Americans, just when the parents of that generation are reaching middle and upper class America.

I do not know how it has happened, but a new generation of kids who do not believe they can compete in the educated world have taken over my local schools. Achievement in school is ostracized. Teachers are giving up. Marriage and two parent homes are fading away. White culture has seen a similar lean towards entropy, but from my vantage point, the swing backward by Black America is so sad and disappointing following the big gains of the baby boomer generation.

My hope is that the new prominence of the Juan Williams and Bill Cosby critique of the “Culture of Failure” in the book Enough will hit home. I’ll be watching over my back fence in black Olympia Fields Illinois.

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