Friday, August 21, 2009

Who killed this American industry?

“Did the U.S. government kill the American circuit board industry?”

“Yes. U.S. government policies have killed many American industries. There is a march to free trade, which is okay so long as the rest of the world is playing by the same rules. But our government, our professors, and our geniuses like Robert Zoellick [former U.S. Trade Representative] … have been on a march to a free-trade utopia. They just killed us.”
In an interview, Douglas Bartlett, chairman and owner of Illinois-based Bartlett Manufacturing Company, was explaining why his firm, the oldest printed circuit board manufacturer in the United States, had recently closed its doors after 56 years in business here.

“People are not making the connection between the collapse of manufacturing and the collapse of the financial system,” Bartlett told Richard McCormack, editor of Manufacturing & Technology News. “It is not a sound bite, and therefore it doesn’t get the press he needs.”

Bartlett tried to organize a printed circuit board (PCB) trade association to promote the interests of American producers, as the larger trade association did for foreign producers. With the U.S PCB industry “on its last legs,” however, he could not find support for an American group.

Faced with dwindling PCB orders even as the global PCB industry was booming, he decided to hang on after the Obama victory last November, Bartlett said, in hopes that the new administration would bring a change in policy. By mid-March he felt there would be “more of the same.” In mid-July he auctioned off the company’s last piece of equipment.

Here are other points Bartlett made in the interview, published in the July 28 issue of Manufacturing & Technology News:

“When you have a situation of a weakening high-tech industry, you would think that the government would look at it [the PCB part] and say, This is a poster child of what’s going wrong. It needs to be saved. But in the last six months, the industry has been crippled beyond repair.

“Everyone says the future is high tech. But you can’t hold together high-tech pieces of equipment unless you have nuts and bolts, wires, circuit boards, and flat screens. If all you have are a few tech components, you’re screwed because you don’t have the mass of jobs and wealth to bring it all together. We had engineers working in our factories, but those factories are now in China. The knowledge dies off, and so we are going to die off.

“Our kids are going to be fluffing dogs and doing toenails while the Chinese are making leading-edge devices.”

At the end of the interview he sounded an up-beat note. “Does it mean that I’ve given up on Washington? No, because I’m talking to you. There are shining stars who are trying to get the story out, but the momentum is horrendously against them.”

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