Baseball is moving towards its all-star break (and the Tigers are struggling). The Women’s World Cup has been completed (with the United States victorious). Nike just signed a major contract to “outfit” the University of Michigan’s athletic teams (football season must be just around the corner). Surprisingly, 2015 has reached its halfway point, as well – revealing some interesting highs and lows that warrant discussion.
Michigan has experienced an excellent “growing season” to date – with crops and mosquitos greatly exceeding expectations (though golf courses and other facilities depending upon warm, dry weather are suffering). Our Great Lakes, inland lakes and streams have reached near-record levels due to our abundant rainfall (but the west coast is preparing to ration water due to several years of drought). Our strategic oil reserves have reached capacity so a brief period of relatively inexpensive gasoline is helping us to travel more this summer (but government and environmental authorities seem committed to advancing solar and wind power by investing heavily into not-yet proven technology). Our economy seems impervious to disruption (though finding qualified workers is posing a significant challenge to our local employers and the International Financial situation in Greece has significantly subdued our national economic growth). We seem to be experiencing a time of contradiction – a period when all looks well on the surface until we dig down a bit to reveal a convoluted and unpredictable core. Looking into some of the issues we are facing, some sad realities become apparent.
Why do we expect inexpensive gas and oil to be an everyday reality when we celebrate the fact that major oil companies must pay unprecedented penalties ON TOP OF repairing damages created by workplace accidents? How can we expect alternative energy sources to emerge when we place in their paths insurmountable roadblocks? How can we harness the wind’s energy when everyone wants turbines placed in someone else’s backyard? How can nuclear energy grow when it takes nearly ten years to approve and build a new power plant? Renewable energy sources are part of the solution – yet wood-burning furnaces have been restricted in many communities because they put out too much pollution. While the impact on individual lives is staggering, the same people who enjoyed high-paying jobs within energy-producing companies lobby for compensatory relief and life-long security from their former employers should an accident occur. Have we become a nation that takes credit for the good in life, seeking bounty from its offerings, yet assigning blame to others for the bad, seeking retribution and gain from their losses? It seems that this dark aspect of our nature has not changed during the first part of 2015 – far too many seek to gain from others pain rather than trying to benefit from their own investments of sweat equity.
Small companies are expanding but are operating with fewer people making more things. Since efficiency is up, expanding opportunities will not likely return our workforce to previous levels. New companies are entering our region BUT employees able to do available work are coming with the company from outside of our current workforce (not everyone is eager to learn new skills). While jobs are available, a higher level of expertise is required for employees to program machines, work with computerized systems and effectively communicate with others (both internally and externally).
While most companies have not given excessive pay increases during the last several years (if one pays attention to the media, our employers are exploiting their workers and making obscene profits), lower-paid employees have been added to the workforce so average rates do not appear to have increased as much as they have. Interestingly, whether the economy moves along at a 2% or a 4% growth curve, average worker wages seem to increase (on average) about 2.5 – 3% (reflecting an influx of lower-paid workers into an economy filled with highly experienced workers). Automotive suppliers seem to be stronger than in the recent past (but anticipate a bit of a slowdown through the first part of 2016). In that next year is an election year, we often see a general slowing of the economy after May or June until the outcome of our vote has been revealed. The service-sector is growing yet many non-profits depending on State funding are justifiably concerned as their income streams have been effectively choked off. Our economy is improving but balances precariously on edge with any shift or delay from current growth trends poised to deal a staggering blow to our recovery.
As the second half of 2015 approaches, perhaps it is time we all returned to our roots – a free-market economy in which demand (rather than mandate) established supply and innovation (rather than mass-production) fulfilled our countries’ needs. Long-term success always has (and always will) come to ethical people who produce an excellent product, provide exceptional service at a competitive price and/or enter into meaningful 2-way relationships that provide “win-win” situations rather than “my way or the highway” exclamations. Though our region’s economic engine has not yet fully abandoned its “full steam ahead” expectation, we do hear initial rumblings asking, “What happened to all we had?”
Looking back at mid-year should encourage us to celebrate our accomplishments mildly – to enjoy all that we have done and immerse ourselves in the good that has come to us. We must also, however, maintain awareness of what has yet to be identified (achieved or accomplished). Much positive has happened during 2015 – perhaps it is time we allowed those things that have been but visualized to this point to become inspiration and destination for those around us as they continue to move forward through the second half of this year - as we bring reality to the dreams of our future.