March 29, 1998 in City

Prosperity Is Still Here For The Earning

By The Spokesman-Review
 

North of the border, layoffs. South of the border, sweatshops. Is that the best the global economy can do?

No, it’s not, says the saga of Spokane-based Key Tronic Corp., outlined in a series that concludes in the pages of today’s Spokesman-Review.

In fact, the only inevitability in the global economy is competition. That’s a game anyone can win.

Often during the last several years, however, media reports have led us all to fear the worst. Over and over, we have heard about U.S. manufacturing firms closing factories here and moving production abroad, where labor is cheap. Over and over, we have heard about depressing conditions and wages in sweatshops beyond our borders.

These things are real and should not be denied. But, these things are partly the result of the American consumer’s hunger for a bargain. For example, we’d rather buy a computer for $799 than $2,300. The reason we can do so is that low-skilled manufacturing jobs are moving overseas, where people work happily for wages Americans would never accept.

And yet, the Key Tronic story is a tale of hope, not only for consumers but also for workers on both sides of the U.S. border.

The plain fact is that Key Tronic did not “export” jobs when it moved production from Spokane to Mexico. The company’s competitors, already producing keyboards abroad, would have driven it out of business had it not made the change. Either way, those U.S. manufacturing jobs were doomed.

Once it set up shop in Mexico, Key Tronic made a series of remarkable decisions - not for charitable reasons, mind you, but for good business reasons. It created working conditions better than some rival factories, offering two meals a day and college educations for its employees. As a result, it won and keeps the best workers. This minimizes turnover, training costs and assembly line errors.

Key Tronic is not alone. The Dallas Morning News reports that Alcom Electronicos de Mexico, a Japanese-owned electronics plant, competes for the loyalty of Mexican laborers with high wages and Japanese-style workplace regimens, from morning exercises to tidy company uniforms.

Meanwhile, here in Spokane, Key Tronic continues to employ Americans - in new-product development, a line of work requiring higher levels of education.

Take note, U.S. workers. Since 1950, unskilled jobs have fallen from 60 percent of the U.S. economy to 15 percent. Professional jobs stayed the same, at 20 percent. And skilled laborers, trained in practical community college courses that any determined American can afford, now comprise 65 percent of the U.S. work force.

Just as Mexican laborers compete for Key Tronic jobs, American laborers, with the right training, can survive the new economy as well.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board


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