Bad News, Good News, Better News

Nov. 1, 2001
It's new technology and workers who know how to use it that are driving the little-reported good news about our economy.

Bad News, Good News, Better News

Most of us would like to imagine that the great disaster of 9/11 never happened. But it did and, as everyone now agrees, “Things will never be the same.” Following that terrible collapse of the towers in New York was the precipitous drop in stock prices and the severe increase in the number of unemployed. Bad news numbers seem to be the only product on the market.

Yet, in this sad and angry time for nervous and worried Americans, there is still far more good news than bad, and better news as well. The country is still busy turning out more goods and services than any other economy, and also has become the per-capita leader. That’s some of the good news.

Surprise, surprise, with all the bad news about business and layoffs and the uncertain equities markets, one super-important number is up again as it has been now for years. Productivity rose in the July-September quarter by 2.7 percent in the non-farm business sector — in other words, in your business or industry. That compares with 2.2 percent in the April-June period of this year, reported the Department of Labor last month.

The folks at Labor pointed out in their report that the “tragic events of September 11 occurred late in the reference period for the productivity and cost measures”; however, there is no reason to expect a significant downward effect later in the year. Job losses, however, is another set of numbers.

Now, these productivity numbers are probably more than irritating to those hundreds of thousands who have been laid off in the past few months, but they might consider this: increasing productivity in manufacturing means increasing profitability on Wall Street. That means more investment and growth. Finding another job in America is going to be easier than in any modern recession. Why?

Couple those productivity numbers with the historically low cost of money and the almost-zero inflation rate, and you have a businessman’s dream. It’s a perfect scenario for long-term growth and prosperity in the industrial sector — particularly capital goods, machinery and attendant industries.

A recent explanation of that wonderful productivity picture comes from Braintech Inc. in North Vancouver, British Columbia. They recently published some research on vision and robotics and related technologies. It points the way to a factory world where even today’s American productivity numbers will seem dull. They note that the use of VGR (vision-guided robotics) has brought some U.S. companies 500 percent increases in productivity.

Braintech notes that it brings together the maturing technologies of vision-guidance with single-camera 3D and laser-triangulation 3D, robust sensor technology and computers as well as their own engineering and software to dramatically up productivity. They’re at

The cost of computing power is still trending toward zero. Robotics, once a generous source of industrial jokes, has matured into an essential in manufacturing — particularly automotive. Refinements in the machine tool industry and in material handling equipment continue to move the plant floor into the ever-higher productivity future and companies into ever more competitive positions. All these facts and numbers make up the ever-better news behind the bleak and tragic headlines.

We will long mourn our losses of 9/11. The better news is we will also continue to amaze the world with our common-sense commitment to enterprise.

Those thousands who were lost, almost all of them contributors to this better news, would surely want it so.

George Weimer

contributing editor

[email protected]

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