Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Don’t give up on the jobs of tomorrow

Contrary to depictions in films and in some history books, most revolutions do not happen overnight.

Take the French Revolution, an event most famous for the storming of the Bastille and the proclamation of The Rights of Man, but in reality punctuated by decades of bloody conflict, ending with the temporary restoration of the French King and the old order.

Hopefully, we get off a little bit easier than the French in the midst of our own current economic revolution.

Yes, you heard right: this downturn isn’t just an incredibly painful recession, it’s also likely to be an economic game-changer as well. According to economists from the public and private sector interviewed by the VBJ over the past couple of weeks (amazing thing, economists, in their ability to counterbalance dry facts and figures with quite impressive senses of humor) the U.S. is headed toward a transformative shift away from being a consumer-driven import economy to one more reliant on exports from the manufacturing sector.

That prospect holds great promise for our region and the rest of the Evergreen State – already an established manufacturing base in one of the most trade-reliant states in the nation.

But though the manufacturing plants of tomorrow like SEH America and WaferTech, as well as the continued strong demand for renewable energy equipment, remain bright spots in an otherwise dismal regional economy, some have expressed frustration that the promised jobs of tomorrow have not yet arrived. Or at least in great enough numbers to fill the thousands of positions lost in Southwest Washington since September 2008.

But merely lamenting and dwelling on lost jobs won’t create more of them.

Ironically, what is needed to expand on the technological roots already embedded into the region’s economic landscape is already happening all around us.

For some, the story of the last year-and-a-half has been one of factory, store and bank closures. But if you look closer, there are also the small stories of start-ups like Ryno motorcycle testing out new technologies in a Vancouver warehouse and big developments like the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 5 – which according to the public agency’s expectations, could place the region on the forefront in a burgeoning worldwide trade in wind turbine parts.

The economic revolution of today promises to be one of fits and starts, with the old economy mingling with the new. It is a sea change in regional, national and global markets that will take decades to ripple through society.

So let’s learn from the lesson of violent conflagrations past by putting away the guillotine, by passing up calls for the blood of bankers, business execs and politicians.

Let us be patient.