This week MSNBC moved in next door and started a series called The Elkhart Project. Elkhart is our neighboring town, and it has become the poster child for the impact of the recession on middle America. President Obama has visited a couple of times. After his election Obama chose Elkhart for his first trip outside of Washington in order to promote his economic stimulus package.
Our town, Goshen, is a little sister to Elkhart, and there is no doubt that the entire county has been hard hit in the last year. In February, unemployment in our county topped 18%. Our economy is heavily dependent on manufacturing jobs, and many of those are – excuse me – were in the recreational vehicle, manufactured housing and mobile home industry. Another sizeable segment of the economy serves the auto industry. So, as this blog post points out, we’ve had most of our eggs in one basket.
It doesn’t take a lot to imagine what an 18%+ unemployment rate does to ancillary businesses. These days you probably don’t need to make a reservation at a restaurant, and my friends in plumbing and construction businesses are – well – hurting.
As I’ve read all this coverage I want to say “Yes, but…”
Yes, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a little diversity in our economy. Our business, for example, helps manufacturers cut costs and improve efficiencies. We find that if we tune out the main stream media, we don’t see much difference in our activities or the demand for our products and services.
It’s oversimplified, but we’ve found that the manufacturing world has split into two camps. Some people are hunkering down and conserving every penny they can. This is understandable in a world where all the rules about credit that we’ve become accustomed to have been turned upside down.
But the other camp is retaining and even cautiously investing in people and systems that help them improve their operations. We’re talking to this second group.
This is the group that sees the opportunity to reduce material costs by 10% to 30%.
This is the group that wants to improve overall equipment effectiveness by 15%.
This is the group that wants to improve process cycle times by 90%.
Some of these are even located in Elkhart.
There are other success stories in our county. For example, The Red Post has a cool electronic signage product they’re delivering all over the country.
Another exciting business is Lucid Energy, which intends to revolutionize the way the world creates and delivers electricity.
I don’t know anything about the finances of either of these companies, but they’re demonstrating the innovation, wonderful entrepreneurial spirit that is so prevalent in our county, and I’m betting they’re doing just fine. We are.