The road ahead

By Lauren Duensing

September 2012 - As I’ve noted in previous editorials, I grew up in North Carolina. In the fall, trees in the Tar Heel State turn glorious reds, oranges and yellows. Now I live in Chicago, and the trees often don’t get the chance to develop those rich colors. It turns cold far too fast. Regardless, no matter where you live, there are signs of changing seasons. Retail stores put sweaters, boots and coats in the windows; kids go back to school; and the baseball cap goes in a drawer, replaced by a football jersey or hockey sweater.

In an election year, change is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. This year, rhetoric has been focused on the divide between the two parties, a gulf that’s growing steadily into two different visions for America’s future and spawning heated discussion along the way.

Both sides, however, focus on one big question: How will the future look? There’s the outlook for the country as a whole, as well as a whole subset of dreams and goals for towns and cities, both those who are flourishing or are poised for boom years and those who have seen better days.

I thought about both the past and the future of manufacturing as I was watching coverage of the Olympics this summer. I happened to catch the story of Claressa Shields, a 17-year-old boxer from Flint, Mich. Needless to say, after hearing her story, I was solidly in Shields’ corner, cheering for her from my couch as she won the only gold medal for the American boxing team in London.

Not everyone has heard of Shields’ hometown of Flint, but people in the metals industry know its story. It rose and fell with the automotive industry, with its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. After the 2006 buyouts, of the nearly 80,000 people that worked for General Motors during the peak, 8,000 were left.

We’ve all seen the towns, parts of cities or neighborhoods that have been devastated by the closing of a manufacturing plant or mill—a business that was a bustling hub, providing jobs and camaraderie for residents. The vacant lots, abandoned houses, population decline and crime show what manufacturing brought to the area and what is missing in its absence.

Flint and other towns with the same story have a long way to go, but strides are being made to bring jobs back to the communities. Brownfield redevelopment, leasing space to smaller parts manufacturers and projects such as urban gardens in vacant lots all provide a new outlook for old industrial space.

And there are steel makers finding a new home in those vacant buildings. Like Flint, the South Side of Chicago once was home to a bustling steel industry that now is a shadow of its former self. However, longtime Chicago steel company A. Finkl & Sons Co. is planning to move from its North Side facility to a redeveloped 44-acre site on the South Side, where Verson Steel once operated. Just down the street, Maruichi Leavitt Pipe & Tube is expanding its facility by 31,286 square feet.

From expansion and relocation to innovative new ideas, many of the companies that I talk to are poised to take advantage of increases in demand and eagerly await a better future for their business and their employees. However, there are unanswered questions, and the staff at Modern Metals will attempt to give our readers some clarity on the uncertainty in next month’s issue. It’s our annual forecast, and one of my favorite issues of the year. I hope you look forward to it, as well. MM


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