More flexibility needed to succeed

The letter in Saturday’s Herald regarding Apple’s huge cash holdings, “Company should build factory in U.S.,” reminds me of the time when one of my children asked me: “Why doesn’t Bill Gates just give all his money to poor people?”, which he is now effectively doing so admirably. I explained that his money would last about a week or month at the most and the problem would not be solved.

There is another underlying problem with the writer’s proposal. When Steve Jobs was asked by President Obama when he was going to manufacture phones in the U.S., he replied “those jobs are never coming back,” and he explained why. The short story is that U.S. factories are, due to a lack of modernization and systematic flexibility, not “nimble” enough to meet the fast-paced dynamic required to address “on-the-spot” changes in design and processes, where, by and large, the factories in China are, especially the workers, who are very well trained.

The solution to this problem is complex, but a good start is the new education venture between Washington State University and Everett Community College. This polytechnic type of education is one of the keys to propelling the U.S. into the 21st century.

For the past few years, China has graduated more engineers than the U.S. While generating more engineers alone will not solve the problem, the “traditional” U.S. educational institutions cannot be expected (nor are they able) to provide directed career preparation until the students reach the professional school level for advanced degrees. Nursing school is a great example of such direct career training and we need a lot more of it.

The other side of the equation is for investment by all sectors in building new plants, and I agree with the letter writer that Apple and other cash-rich companies can do a lot to bring these jobs back. First they need a well-trained and “nimble” workforce. In addition, industry and government need to work together to create opportunities to build new modernized manufacturing facilities that can stop on a dime and give 9 cents back in change. This is what has been done in Asia and elsewhere. Recall the introduction of robotics in Japan’s automobile manufacturing plants. The outcome is well known in Detroit. China has accomplished this and “cheap labor” alone is not to blame.

Let’s not get fooled a third time!

Andy Branca