Manufacturing isn’t the only way to make a buck

  • Froma Harrop / Providence Journal Columnist
  • Tuesday, December 28, 2004 9:00pm
  • Opinion

Just because Americans aren’t making things anymore doesn’t mean they can’t find work. Here’s a list of the five hot new jobs for 2005:

1. Moneylender. Making things is no longer the path to riches in America. Lending money is where the real money is. And corporate managers who can get consumers to borrow heavily will be in high demand.

Ford and General Motors now earn more money writing loans than producing cars and trucks. In the third quarter, Ford actually lost $609 million on automotive operations but earned $734 million from its financing business.

IBM, we read, has just sold its personal-computer business to Lenovo, a Chinese competitor. But IBM is holding on to the PC unit’s financing arm. Some businesses are too valuable to let go.

Everyone wants to lend money to the American consumer, and so competition is intense. The successful moneylender must be able to invent credit products that get the attention of distracted consumers.

2. Debt collector. When moneylenders do their jobs well, debt collectors enjoy a sunny future.

Consumers going into debt understand the basic concept: Money borrowed must be paid back. But they may not have grasped the terms of their loans. It’s the debt collector’s job to explain the fine print.

Take, for example, those credit-card offers of 2.99 percent annual percentage rate through April. They come with a number of conditions. If you miss making a monthly payment by a day, the APR automatically zooms up to the old usurious levels. In addition, the balances may be subject to “Default Pricing” – an even more horrifying rate, “as set forth in your Agreement.”

Penalty charges are another surprise for borrowers. These are fees of $30 or more that many lenders slap on top of everything else when you’ve been five minutes late with a minimum payment.

To succeed, the modern debt collector must combine several talents. The top jobs will go to educators with good communication skills and the firmness of the repo man.

3. Director of outsourcing. While not many American companies manufacture in the United States anymore, a surprising number still do. Entrenched habits are hard to break. It’s the outsourcing director’s job to help companies see the light and move offshore.

Example: Maytag is an old-line maker of reliable home appliances, based in Newton, Iowa. Its Hoover subsidiary makes most of its vacuums in Ohio and Texas. That’s a problem, according to a recent article in Barron’s.

The competitors have already outsourced their production to China and other cheap-labor countries. Maytag’s reluctance to follow has Wall Street worried. “Some analysts think Maytag ought to dump Hoover or move its manufacturing outside the U.S.,” says Barron’s, but its CEO “so far has not indicated plans to change course.”

It doesn’t matter how efficient the U.S. workers are or how high-tech the plant. Wherever an American factory is humming, there’s opportunity to close it down. The director of outsourcing gets the job done.

4. Transporter of foreign-made goods. Foreigners may now produce our toys, sweatshirts and CD players, but an American has to get them to the U.S. stores. That’s why business is already booming at American ports. Ships laden with goods from Asia are creating thousands of new jobs at West Coast, Gulf of Mexico and East Coast ports.

Sky’s the limit on career opportunities. There are jobs for customs officials. There are jobs for crane operators who unload containers full of imports off the ships and drop them onto trains or trucks – and for the drivers who take the imports to the nation’s stores.

5. Empty-container engineer. Because Americans don’t make much in the way of goods, the container ships return to Asia mostly empty. This is a wasteful practice. The empty-container engineer figures out things to send back.

One possibility is empty boxes. Perhaps we can set up a global recycling system: The Chinese send us boxes of stuff, and we send back the empty cartons for refilling.

In any case, Americans have always had a genius for growing new businesses on the ashes of dying industries. Our entrepreneurs are going to find new things for us to do. Right? If we don’t make TVs, we can make loans, instead.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Contact her by writing to fharrop@projo.com.

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