(Aug. 12, 2005) — Every commencement speaker says it: “Find a job you can be passionate about. Do what you love.”
If your paycheck comes from U.S. manufacturing, that's something to remember. You can buy the latest equipment, automate your plant and do ISO. But it's all wasted money unless the owner, managers and shop-floor workers care about what they're making. Company leaders have to pay attention.
U.S. manufacturing is under attack, from China's low labor costs to skyrocketing resin prices to out-of-control health-care costs. It's almost become a cliche: Your customers — indeed, most American consumers — don't care about anything but cheap, cheap, cheap.
You've been to trade shows where you get into small talk about China, spend 45 minutes hashing out the world's problems, and it ends with, “Oh well, you can't do anything about it.” That can get depressing. But I like it when the person grits his or her teeth and refuses to give up.
For a lesson in enthusiasm, let's take a look two success stories. One is an institution, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. The other is Step2's Wayne Stock, the subject of a Page 1 story.
Stock retired as head of manufacturing at the rotational molder of toys in Streetsboro, Ohio. Since the early 1980s, Stock has worked closely with another pretty passionate guy, Tom Murdough, who founded Step2 and before that, Little Tikes Co.
Murdough isn't afraid to criticize mass retailers. Ask him about reverse auctions and you get some anger, not just business-speak. He's frustrated. He cares. Stock is more low-key. But he loved making toys and holds in high esteem the men and women who toil in the rotomolding factory.
Rotational molding occupies a tiny sliver of the total plastics industry. Compared to injection molding, it's hot and noisy. Primitive. But rotomolding has its own special gusto as worker, mold and machine come together in a blue-collar dance.
Stock improved the industry because he really cares.
In May, the “50 Years of Plastics Education at Lowell” celebration dinner was the highlight of the Society of Plastics Engineers' Antec 2005 in Boston. It was moving to see hundreds of plastics industry leaders of all ages give a long, standing ovation for six plastics engineering professors who have taught for more than 25 years at the prestigious program. The professors aren't in it for the money. They love it. And the 500-plus alumni returned their devotion at a lively banquet that at times even got rowdy.
“There's something special about the plastics program at Lowell. There's a bond between the students, faculty, the alumni and the staff,” said Robert Malloy, chairman of the Plastics Engineering Department.
Thanks to that bond, and close links to industry, UMass at Lowell has raised $8.4 million in cash and equipment donations since 1999 to totally gut and renovate eight of its nine laboratories. Supporters pumped in another $2.2 million for endowment funds.
That's enthusiasm you can take to the bank.
Bill Bregar is an Akron-based senior reporter for Plastics News.