It’s getting to be that time of year when we at ASSEMBLY start gearing up for Assembly Technology Expo (ATExpo), which we sponsor here in Chicago each September. Doing so now has reminded me of just how much has happened over the past 12 months.
I’d like to interrupt the current
recession for a brief interjection: Wow!
This time last year we had a president nearing the
end of his second term; the financial crisis was just beginning to unfold (like
Godzilla slowly emerging from the murk midway through a B horror
movie-amorphous but very threatening!); and oil prices were going through
the roof. Politicians were still arguing over whether the fundamentals of the
economy were sound; Ford was bragging about how much progress it was making
with its turnaround plan (it had actually begun turning a profit); and there
was fear of a strike at GM. Remember the GM strike? It did eventually happen,
right in the middle of ATExpo. It seemed pretty scary at the time. Ah, what an
innocent time it was!
Speaking of the past year, how about this spring?
Remember when the economy was in free fall, jobs were being shed left and
right, and people weren’t even answering their phones anymore? Times remain
tough. The future is far from certain. There’s still a good deal of hardship to
come. But the present feels downright nice in comparison.
I mention the past year for a
couple of reasons. First and foremost, because it’s been a heck of a ride.
Maybe it’s because I majored in history as an undergrad, but I can’t help
looking around at everything that’s happening with a sense of awe. These are
truly epic times. If you ever wondered what it was like to experience some of
the things you read about in history class, just look around you. You’re in it.
The other reason I mention the past 12 months is to
draw attention to how far we’ve come. It’s one thing to say that economic hard
times also bring opportunity. It’s quite another to put in the hard work
necessary to make those opportunities happen. It’s one thing to trumpet the
wonders of the free market when times are good. It’s a whole other matter doing
what it takes to ride out the inevitable downturns, to cope with the “creative
destruction” that is such an integral part of real progress.
There’s been a lot of talk recently
about the significance of the “green shoots” currently popping up across the
economy, not to mention some concern that Wall Street is letting its greedy gut
tell it where to go as opposed to its brain. However, the simple fact is that
these green shoots-new business ventures, private sector initiatives throughout
the broader economy-are happening, and they simply will not all be snuffed out.
We at ASSEMBLY hear it over and over again. People are sick and tired of the
recession. They want to work, and by gosh they’re going to do it. People are
coming up with new ideas, quoting projects and figuring out how best to catch
the wave as the economy once again gathers steam. These people simply
will not be stopped. That’s what they do, and by God they’re going to do it.
Just look at the headlines-for
every gloom and doom story about layoffs, for every talking head on cable
television pontificating to the rest of us about the financial markets, there
are two or three stories talking about some new technology or startup throwing
its hat into the ring.
Michigan may very well become a global center foradvanced automotive battery manufacture.
An assembly plant in Cleveland of all places is now buildingsuper-efficient enginesfor Ford. Wind farms are sprouting up throughout the country, and those same
green technologies that were once scoffed at by investors are now attracting
millions in startup capital. Heck, just this past week there was a story about
how Toyota is thinking ofteaming up with GM to build hybrid vehiclesin North America. Imagine reading that a few months ago!
All too often, things like the free
market are thought of only in the abstract. But the free market is a very real
and tangible thing. It’s countless individuals all getting up each morning and
going to work to improve both their own lives and the lives of the people
It’s also easy to become bedazzled
by all those financial people in their fine suits, to forget that they are
simply a means to an end. They talk about “adding value,” but in fact, they are
merely greasing the wheels and providing fuel for the engine that is doing the
actual adding. You can’t drive to work in a hedge fund. Derivatives alone won't
fill an empty stomach. Never forget that all the financial products in the
world don’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t have people doing the hard work
of actually putting all that capital to good use.
That is the true genius of America,
the fact that-notwithstanding the occasional high-profile hand-wringing over whether
folks these days measure up to their grandparents-we both like work and are
damn good at it. Ultimately, so long as people are willing to work, so long as
they don’t give up, they will find a way to do what simply comes naturally to
them. If there’s one thing this recession has shown, it’s that this fundamental
aspect of the American character hasn’t changed a bit.
The Importance of ‘Green Shoots'
By Adam Cort