Dean Barber

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

My Look Back

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2012 at 8:39 am

Moses came down from the mountain with one. I go to the supermarket with one.  Even Santa Clause must depend on one to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice.

Yes, ever since we have been scratching on cave walls, people have been making lists. My wife is very adept at making honey-do lists, essentially assignments of things that she determines that I should do. With list in hand, I dutifully do.

This time of year, you will see lists compiled usually by feeble-minded editors who are desperate for any copy to publish in the guise of news. Hence, they come up with what they proclaim as the biggest stories of 2012.

And while there may be some rationale to their judgments, this is all very subjective and depends on your point of view, your industry group and your location. I couldn’t help but notice, for example, several of the top stories in 2012 as compiled by the editors of Food Manufacturing magazine.

“Toxic Grass Responsible For Cattle Deaths” was ranked the No. 3 story of the year, about a rancher in Central Texas losing a herd to, well, toxic grass.  And how could I not take note of the No. 2 story: “Worker Cooked To Death At Tuna Plant.” Not particularly appetizing.

Geography matters. The top stories of 2012 in say Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, will likely be much different than, say, Gnaw Bone, Indiana. But I think the Moose Jaw Times Herald got it right for all of us everywhere when it began its Dec. 21 editorial with this line: “There has been far too much talk of the end of the world.”

So my No. 1 news story of 2012 is the fact that the Mayans got it wrong and we’re still here. But in honor of those ancient Mesoamericans, who were a pretty resourceful bunch, my wife and I ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant Friday night.

Now I will not offer you a list of the Top 10 news stories in 2012 as the Associated Press recently did. Rather, I will offer you some stories as being particularly noteworthy from the viewpoint of a former feeble-minded editor and now a simply addled consultant. Bear with me please.

Cliffmas Time is Coming

“I am sick of hearing about the fiscal cliff,” my wife said, staring at me as if I were somehow responsible.

“Yes, dear, so am I,” I said, hoping that my tepid response would somehow alleviate the situation and not force me to explain why I was not at fault.

But it’s clear that Congress is leaving Washington, DC., with no agreement having been fashioned with the White House on how to avoid what would be massive tax increases for us all and potentially sending the economy into a tailspin.

This really is a very big deal, but no deal has been made, which puts us all at risk.

Yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party, House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million. The speaker is now saying that President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should come up with legislation to avoid more than $600 billion in tax-and-spending changes that would probably cause a recession in the first half of 2013 if left in place.

Obama and Boehner had been edging closer to a deal that would have included $1 trillion each in tax increases and spending cuts. Now it would appear that we are headed over the cliff. Hold onto your hat.

It’s a New Dawn

Analysis of exit poll data from prior elections shows that voter support for GOP Mitt Romney among white evangelical protestants was the same as for George W. Bush in 2004 (79 percent for both GOP candidates). The big difference, of course, was that George Bush, with sizeable Hispanic support, won.

The demographics of the United States are changing. White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2043, according to new census projections. We are witnessing a historic shift that is reshaping the nation’s schools, workforce, electorate, and how we do business.

So my other big story of the year is the reelection of President Obama, which in no small part was due to his support from 78 percent of non-white voters. The country’s changing demographic mosaic has stark political implications, as was evidenced by the president winning his second term.

Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. I think that should be a wakeup call to the GOP that they cannot remain largely a party of perceived grumpy old white guys. Notice that I said perceived, as I realize that some of you are not so grumpy.

Business leaders, which by and large backed Romney, are now making a beeline to the White House to make peace and even urge Republican lawmakers to cut a deal with the administration on the fiscal cliff. More than anything, business people want certainty so as to better make decisions. Uncertainty is always a great enemy to capital investment.

This Economy is Ours

According to the National Bureau of Economics, it was December 2007, five years ago this month, that unemployment rose to 4.9 percent and the Great Recession began.

The unemployment rate would eventually rise to 10 percent, but it recently has dipped to a four-year-low of 7.7 percent. Today, there are clear signs of recovery as builders broke ground on more homes, and November was the best sales month in nearly five years for U.S. automakers.

But I am starting to wonder if our current economic predicament reflects a fundamental technological change in what work is and how value is created. As we adapt to transformative technology, we know that fewer people are needed to produce even greater revenues.  The assumptions that we’ve lived with for a very long time — that each generation will be more prosperous than the last — may no longer hold true.

But things are looking up to a degree. Consumer spending, which typically accounts for two-thirds of the US economy, rose 1.6 percent from July to September. Purchases of existing houses in November increased 5.9 percent to a 5.04 annual rate, the most since November 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors. Some analysts predict that home sales will take off in 2013, and thereby lift consumer confidence even more.

But still we must be reminded that long-term unemployment lingers at levels not seen since the Great Depression. As of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year. It remains our national human tragedy with homes lost and dreams destroyed.

High unemployment poses a threat to our future growth, as the long-term unemployed become viewed as unemployable, as societal cast-offs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates our annual production falls short by $900 billion a year of what it could be or 6 percent of GDP.  The Great Recession, which technically ended in June 2009 after 18 months, is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of those who do without.

I suspect that the economy will be my biggest story for many years to come, because it touches us all in such a personal way. Lives change because of it, for the best and for the worst.

America says Enough

The Associated Press listed the slaughter of innocents at Newtown, Conn., as the biggest story of the year. Certainly it has touched us in ways that can only harken back to 9-11 in its impact on the national psyche.

I do not expect that the National Rifle Association’s answer for an armed guard in every school in America to be a practical solution, although tightened security will result. I expect that legislation will come out of Congress restricting the sales of certain types of guns and large-capacity magazines as well as addressing better access for mental health.

The NRA may prove to be the emperor with no clothes. It didn’t have to be that way, of course, but the NRA’s tone-deaf leadership has become radicalized over the years, opposed to background checks at gun shows, opposed to a public ban on armor-piercing ammunition or high-capacity magazines.

Newtown very well may become the NRA’s Waterloo. America, where Second Amendment rights will be protected with common sense, has had enough.

A Parting Note

I started this blog, my last for the year, in my characteristically silly way and ended it on an all too serious note about how we address what can only be described as a national tragedy. I realize and expect that you will not always agree with my observations and opinions. Admission: Sometimes I look back on what I have written and don’t agree with myself.

But I do hope that this blog may have served you, if only occasionally, in thinking about things, usually on matters of business and commerce. I am no leading authority on anything. Rather, I am a business consultant with certain ideas, some of which might be worthy.

And I feel very blessed and privileged to be writing for those of you who may follow my rants and musings. I am not sure if that speaks well of any of us.  But I do hope that you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wave Will Spread

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2012 at 9:42 am

In the decision to invest capital at some place and at some time, the human factor, the human resources needed, will almost always plays a key role regardless of the industry. As you might imagine, this is incredibly important in the site selection process, to which I advise companies.

Despite the trend toward needing fewer people to do appointed tasks, particularly in manufacturing, we cannot all be replaced by robots. Somebody has got to design the robots. Somebody has got to keep the robots running. Somebody has got to lubricate the system and make the machine of business run.

In the drive to remain competitive and to free themselves from the encumbrances of labor unions, US manufacturers have been shifting resources to right-to-work states, where they believe the machine can run better. In right to work states,  it is illegal to require that employees join a union or pay union dues to get or keep a job.

And while employees can still form unions, engage in collective bargaining and go on strike in right to work states, the power and the purse strings of unions are most certainly deflated. In those states, most of them in the South and the West, union membership stood at 6.48 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In states without right-to-work laws, 10.8 percent of the workforce belonged to unions.

A Tectonic Shift

The shocker came when Michigan, the cradle of the US labor movement, this past week became the 24th state to adopt right-to-work laws. One poll showed that Michigan voters favored the right-to-work bills by 51 percent to 41 percent. (Even 40 percent of union households supported the law as did 63 percent of young voters.)

The question is whether what happened in Michigan — the home state of the UAW and the Big 3 automakers — could be a harbinger of things to come. In other words, if Michigan of all places can become a right to work state, why not Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Illinois?  I suspect that we just might be witnessing the movement of huge tectonic plates in the labor history of our country.

You may want to mark the date — Dec. 11, 2012. It was the day that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work bill into law. It may not go down in history as the day the unions died. That would be an overstatement as more established unions will remain intact. But Dec. 11 may nonetheless become an historic date when the floodgates were opened for what may come to follow. We shall see.

But keep in mind that this has been a long time in coming, even if the bill signing came as an unexpected surprise. About 17 percent of Michigan workers belong to unions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In the early 1960s, about 40 percent did.

If 40 percent of union households in Michigan favored right to work status, then you have to wonder if there are not at least some undercurrents within the rank and file as to whether unions have deviated from their original purpose. If given the choice, some union members may not have chosen to join the union, because they may not like what they see — a stifling of labor competition to the detriment of their employer.

Yes, Lower Wages

Union proponents contend, and there is some evidence to suggest that they are correct, that right-to-work states have lower wages on average than pro-union states. A study by Hofstra’s Lonnie Stevans in 2007 found that right-to-work laws help boosts the number of businesses in a state — but the gains mostly went to owners, while average wages went down. Another study by Thomas J. Holmes in 1998 found that companies in heavily unionized states often relocated just across state borders to right-to-work states.

As I related in my blog last week, O Ye of Little Faith, I have had more than a few companies tell me during the site selection process that they wanted to restrict their search to only right-to-work states. No doubt, economic developers in Michigan and Indiana, which earlier broke the mold in the industrial Midwest by becoming a right-to-work state in February, believe they are now on a better competitive standing to win industrial projects. And so they probably are if for no other reason than perception of a more pro-business environment.

As I suggested, I am not in the habit of arguing with clients. If it is right to work they want, it is right to work they will get.

No Coincidence Indeed

It’s no coincidence that a wave of German, Japanese and Korean automotive manufacturers have built assembly plants in the Southeast, all right to work states where the UAW holds little sway. And while I do not put a lot of stock in the various magazine rankings of states in terms of their business climate, I do take note of CNBC’s annual list of the best states for business, in which nine of the top 10 states are right-to-work states. That’s something that I file away in the back of my mind.

Likewise, I file away that Indiana and now Michigan are right to work states, where client companies may suggest that they will now consider for future investment. While there are a slew of factors to be considered in the site selection process, workforce is usually always high on the list. Allaying fears and doubts of management regarding workforce is a big part of that process.

In short, I am suggesting that some fears and doubts have been diminished in Indiana and Michigan, once bastions of organized labor, as was the intent with the change of status. The critics are probably right in that it may do nothing to boost wages in those states. I will grant them that.

But if right-to-work status serves as a better incubator for capital investment, a concept that even some union members would apparently agree, then the historic changes we have witnessed in these two states will spread. I don’t think this can be contained. The wave will spread.

Our Hearts Have Been Broken

This is a business blog, so I am going to ask your forbearance here when I delve into something that I am not equipped to fully fathom or explain.

But I can tell you that by Saturday morning, I had my fill of television news coverage about the senseless killing of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. I just couldn’t watch it anymore as it saddened me so.

There about 310 million Americans and about 285 million guns floating around in our society, and I’m starting to believe that the only people who should have guns are the police and me. (Actually, I don’t believe that but I am trying to make a point here. Just bear with me.)

This latest mass murder comes just days after a young man went on a killing spree in Oregon shopping mall that resulted in three dead, including the shooter. As a gun owner and having grown up in a hunting tradition, I have always been skeptical and resistant to gun control, but I’m starting to believe that some things need fixing.

Experts believe about 40 percent of guns sold in this country are done so without any background check. That is not good, and I would hope that the NRA might even agree, although I doubt that they would.  (It should be noted that the three weapons recovered at the crime scene in Newton were all legally purchased by the shooter’s deceased mother.)

Now I will fully acknowledge that it’s not all about guns. On the same day of the massacre in Newton, Conn., a man in China stabbed 22 children at an elementary school.  Ultimately, this is about the mentally disturbed that walk among us. How can we better identify and provide treatment for the mentally ill, particularly that smaller subgroup of angry depressives, and how do we prevent them from getting weapons?

Couple mental illness with an access to weapons, and you have is a lethal combination. So treating mental illness, not criminalizing people who have mental illness (98 percent of whom will not be violent), I think is somehow key to all of this. The gun violence that we sustain in this country, with 87 fatalities a day, is a national disgrace.

Will this be a historic watershed moment for policy makers? Perhaps no substantive changes in guns laws will result, but rather a substantial tightening of security with the placement of armed police officers in virtually every schoolhouse in America. I would not doubt that.

A clearly emotional President Obama faced television cameras on Friday afternoon. “Our hearts have been broken,” he said, trying to wipe back tears. And so they have.

We are better than this. Lord knows, we have to be better than this. Give us wisdom and give us strength.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

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O Ye of Little Faith

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2012 at 6:59 am

We all have our moments of doubt. That is not necessarily a bad thing, certainly not for the profession of economic development.

Questioning your beliefs, deliberating on your doubts, may actually strengthen your faith that you might be doing something good. Then again, you may come to the conclusion: “Who the heck am I fooling,” and go off and do something productive like selling insurance. (Hey, some of my best friends are insurance agents.)

But speaking as a former ED practitioner (as I am now an infidel consultant), I think we could all use a good bath of introspection on occasion. It does the soul good to question what you do and the outcomes that may follow.

So often, economic developers will don the mantle of outrage if an outsider dares suggest that what we do may not really matter in the big picture or that some of our fundamental beliefs might actually be flawed.  Usually, but not always, it is the press asking these disturbing questions about what we do and why we did it.

But in our quiet moments, when the door is closed and we are all alone at our desk, I think most of us have at least on one occasion wondered about the value of a deal that we may have played a key role in. I know I have. And sometimes those questions will never be fully answered to your liking.

This past week the New York Times published a series of stories about economic development and the practice of awarding incentives. This is an old story that will never go away and it probably shouldn’t.

If the point of the Times’ stories was to suggest that some economic developers will too often award incentives without doing proper due diligence, such as an in-depth cost-benefit analysis, well then, there’s probably some truth to that. But you, as practitioners, can always fix that.

You can do the dang cost benefit analyses or have a third party do it for you (probably the better idea for reasons of credibility) and hush any possible critics of your deal if the numbers show that is indeed worthy. And maybe you can then put your head on your pillow and sleep, knowing that you did right.

On the other hand, if your cost-benefit analysis shows the numbers don’t work, you need to know that dog won’t hunt and act accordingly.

In conversations this past week with my friend Adam Bruns, managing editor of Site Selection magazine, he called to my attention that nowhere in the Times stories did he see the word “clawback.”  Not to be found at Red Lobster, these are provisions that should be included in a contract between a community and a company, serving as an incentives/investment tradeoff.

It’s really not a very complicated idea, although some consultants will try to make it so, citing all sorts of vague and nefarious terminology. Company A says it is going to invest  X amount of dollars in your community, creating Y amount of jobs over the Z years, but only if you give them free land, tax abatements and credits, a cash grant, free worker training, cookies and ice cream.

You write up a contact, after doing your due diligence to determine the economic impact, saying essentially this: Ok, Company A, we will give you this, this and this, but in return, you have got to give us this, this and this, including creating Y amount of jobs over the next Z years. Now if you do not or cannot fulfill your end of the bargain, please understand that we may have to come back for our cookies and ice cream as a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer.

If a company is offended by such clawback provisions, well, they shouldn’t be. And I would advise them as such as their site selection consultant. Assuming that your cost-benefit analysis shows the incentives being offered is worth the investment being dangled in front of the community (that the math indeed works for both sides), then we should be able to sit down and negotiate an arrangement in an amicable way.

Neither side will get all they want, but both sides can leave the table believing that they got enough of what they needed. Now if only the Democrats and Republicans in Washington could find such an adult middle ground and prevent us from hurling over the fiscal cliff.

Manufacturing Matters

Not long ago, some writer at Forbes magazine opined that anyone who longs for a resurgence of manufacturing is conjuring up romantic notions on the way things used to be. Manufacturing, she said, was no longer of great importance to our nation’s future economic destiny, but a thing of the past.

Well, I will admit to having some romantic notions in reference to my father, a metallurgical engineer and a foundry man of some repute. But I am also a realist. The good old days are dead and gone. By the very nature of what  manufacturing is today and is becoming, we know that it is highly unlikely that manufacturing jobs will be returning in a huge impactful way.

But manufacturing will continue to play an incredibly important role in our country, and there may be some continued job growth as there has been in the past two years. But this is true only if our policy makers allow it. The indications are that the politicians on both sides of the aisle finally get it and will do no further harm, although they will unlikely take the needed tax policy measures to put manufacturing on a better footing.

This past week, I co-authored an article on manufacturing for Site Selection magazine, entitled The Return. Now if you don’t read it, that can only mean that you do not love your country, apple pie or puppies.  To which I must ask: What’s wrong with you?

Huge News Out of Michigan

Previously, it was the solid South that was comprised of right to work states, and it was the Midwest that was the traditional if not eroding bastion for organized labor. Well, that historical model is falling apart.

In February, Indiana broke the mold by becoming a right to work state in a clear bid by the Gov. Mitch Daniels to improve the perceived business climate of his state, where manufacturing continues to play a huge role.

And now, Michigan is about to follow suit, which I think is rather extraordinary. I had heard rumblings of a right-to-work movement in the western part of the state several years ago, but I never thought it would carry the day. I thought (wrongly) that the emaciated power and influence of the United Auto Workers upon legislators from southeastern Michigan would still be strong enough to effectively block any right to work movement coming to fruition.

For the uninitiated, in a right to work state, workers can opt out of joining a union (and paying dues) even if their workplace votes in favor of a union.  As you can imagine, that threatens the purse strings and the power of unions, and they are dead set against the concept of giving a worker the option of opting out. Never mind that workers in right to work states are still free to organize and create a union if they so choose.

My father, who was always in management in a manufacturing environment, said the only company that gets a union is one that deserves it. I think he was right then and right now.  I believe that if a company pays a decent, competitive wage, communicates and treats its people with respect, the chances of that company getting a union is pretty remote. That holds true in Alabama, a right to work state, and Ohio, which is not.

Still, I have had more than a few companies tell me during the site selection process that they want their future plant to operate in right-to-work states. Undoubtedly, they believe that they are at risk of getting an unwanted union. I think that is more perception than reality, but I don’t make a habit of arguing with clients on such matters. If it is right to work they want, it is right to work they will get.

About five years ago, I was in a meeting with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and about a dozen economic developers. At some point, he opened the floor for questions.  As a former newspaper guy, I tend to ask some tough questions, particularly when I want to know the answers.

So I asked the governor about the prospect of Indiana becoming a right to work state. Well, folks, you would have thought that I rolled a hand grenade in the middle of the room. He did not want to go there. He did not want to touch it. He certainly didn’t come close to answering the question.

For what it’s worth, I think Daniels is a really smart guy and an exceptional governor. And I think the news coming out of Michigan is pretty exceptional, too.

Interesting how time changes things.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

Why Manufacturing Matters to Me

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2012 at 6:58 am

We look at a son or a daughter and so often see the face of a father or a mother or even a grandparent.

Before he died, my older brother and I enjoyed our times together. Jim was in California. I was in the East, but we specifically made time for us. Whether it was wild boar hunting or shooting pool on a sawdust floor in some backwoods beer joint, we were the Barber boys and a force to be reckoned with.

We laughed too hard and we drank too much and people thought we were crazy. And we were, at least when we were together.

Occasionally during one of our frolics, Jim would literally stop me in my tracks  and say, “Man, you look just like Dad.” That sobering thought would make us both pause for a moment, before resuming our plunge into excess with yelling and sporatic gunfire.

I have this small football-shaped birthmark on the inside of my right calf. It is fading now, because I am getting old, but when I was a child, Jim gave me an unlikely explanation that I believed for the longest time: “That’s where the elephant pooped on you.”

Dad had the exact same birthmark at the exact same spot. And he never refuted Jim’s story.

Genetics versus Environment

So why do I recount these very personal tales? Because I have been thinking about that never-ending debate of whether we are more influenced by genetics or our environment and experiences.

I believe my experiences weigh more heavily on who I became and how I think, knowing full well that inherited DNA is somewhere in the mix.  I wasn’t a born musician, but rather developed a penchant for music because I grew up in a musical family.

I can trace my love of history to long walks with my grandfather, Homer, a retired captain of the Chattanooga Fire Department. Homer had a great eye for picking up arrow heads off the ground.

While we were walking on fire-fighting training grounds adjacent to the national Civil War battlefield park in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Homer stopped, stooped down picked up a tarnished brass union coat button. He handed it to me without saying a word. You can bet that I still have that button today and a bunch of arrow heads.

The point is that my love of music and history was a natural journey for me. And for that very same reason, I have this unabated interest, almost love, for manufacturing.

I Can Smell a Foundry

My father, Bob Barber, was a metallurgical engineer and known as an experienced and knowledgeable grey iron foundry man.  He had a knack for turning around ailing foundries, and there were always plenty of them. Dad knew if there was a foundry in a town by smelling the air.

The practice of melting and casting metal into a mold has been taking place for more than 5,000 years. Seven of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were metal casters. So we’re really talking old-school manufacturing.

We have probably lost a thousand foundries or more in the past two decades. According to the American Foundry Society, the U.S. casting industry currently consists of 2,010 operations (80 percent of which are small businesses with less than 100 employees), down from 2,336 five years ago.

Leave it to say, I grew up with foundry sand in my blood.  I didn’t go to college right after graduating from high school, but worked at a foundry as I wanted some time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

And while I did not follow the path of my father by pursuing a career in manufacturing, I have always believed that manufacturing was and remains key to our nation’s future. In short, if we stop making stuff, we will not only short shrift wealth that will permeate throughout society but we will relegate ourselves to has-been status as a nation. I truly believe that.

It is Up to Us

If this past Great Recession has revealed anything to us, I think it is becoming apparent that those communities whose local economies are based on something as ethereal as gaming, retail, tourism and real estate development, are essentially built upon a house of cards. Energy, technology, and manufacturing are far preferable as an economic foundation. As Waylon Jennings opined in the song, maybe it is time to get back to the basics.

And I believe the basics are a return to an emphasis of math and science in our schools and investing in research and development so that we can remain a dominant manufacturing power and not go the route of Great Britain.

By its very nature, manufacturing forces our hand to become a more innovative society. So it is really up to us – and federal government policy plays a huge role – on what we want to do and be as a nation.

On the local level, it is apparent that many communities have written off manufacturing. Their idea of economic development is to solely pursue the paper tiger of retail, as it will surely feed the coffers of local government with sales tax dollars. And just as certainly, their focus will by necessity create low-paying jobs that will do very little to build actual wealth in the community.

Because of my manufacturing roots, I cannot help but see such places as La La Land. Nice places to visit, mind you.

Accolades from a Real Place

Recently, I got one of the nicest accolades by a newfound, like-minded friend, who also comes from a manufacturing background. Barry Seneri, vice president of business investment with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, wrote this:

“Dean has a passion for manufacturing best practices and is well-suited to assist companies in their search for the best location to set up operations.”

Coming from Barry and coming from Pittsburgh, which is a real place that has staked its future on energy, technology and manufacturing, well, that gives me a degree of confidence that I am not a complete nutjob.

But sometimes I feel like one or the very least a contrarian when I give fair warning. Despite the growth, despite the spate of happy stories that you continue to read about a manufacturing renaissance in this country, we are not out of the woods yet.

Yes, there has been growth in our manufacturing sector for the past two years. And, yes, we have learned that China is not the bargain-basement nirvana without its own risks.

You Want the Truth?

But the truth remains that there are daunting, unresolved structural problems as to the competitive nature of U.S. manufacturing. These long-standing problems, which go back decades, resulted in a hemorrhaging of nearly 6 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010. And if you are thinking that another massive bloodletting is not possible, think again.

I will be writing about the future face of manufacturing in the United States for an upcoming issue of Site Selection magazine. I’ve talked to realists, not cheerleaders, who have studied this issue in great depth.

And while there are areas that give us a distinct competitive advantage – suddenly we are awash in cheap natural gas and the US is poised to become the largest energy producer in the world by 2020 —  we continue to mire in a self-imposed environment that keeps our manufacturing sector from being all that it could be.

Again, we have choices to make as a country. Let’s make the right ones.

Let’s See that Pony Run

For the longest time, I equated land with a site. Not true. Land is land, but a site is where money has been spent setting the groundwork for something much bigger to come.

Last week, I gave a presentation to the board of directors of the Longview (Texas) Economic Development Corp., in which I explained the basis for our work in certifying a 705-acre industrial park.

We are in the final stages, and I am about to put my Barber Business Advisors seal of approval on our combined efforts, which essentially entails building an extensive documentary file on a site. I am the counselor and the overseer of such measures, which should eliminate a degree of risk for any industrial prospect.

That is the ultimate point — reduce risk for a corporate end user during the site selection process and thereby fast track a project. It serves as a tangible marketing tool for economic development organizations, not smoke and mirrors. We now have this site documented. All your questions can be answered because of the due diligence that we performed ahead of time.

Calling land a site is like calling a mule a race horse. The big difference is that a mule will never become a race horse, but land can become, with time and effort, a site. Now let’s see that pony run.

For more information, read “Site Certification: Saddle Up Old Kate.” Link: https://deanbarber.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/site-certification-saddle-up-old-kate/

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com