Friday, September 24, 2010

The View From Here

When you walk in through the enormous bay doors you are greeted by a spacious work environment divided into areas by tall, wide shelves laden with product and supply. There's a heat sealer machine, a table saw that introduces the more expansive carpentry department behind it(including a data qued pneumatic scribe), and table space to accommodate four or five workers or more, if necessary. And this is only the bay. Through a generous doorway is the main sewing room where thirteen different sewing machines are set up as well as a computerized cutting table. This area can put eighteen people to work if need be, cutting, sewing, and assembling enclosures, Bimini tops, and other products for all manner of personal watercraft from jet skis to luxury yachts.
If you've gotten this far on the tour, you have started to notice the missing element in all of this: people.
In the bay there is one carpenter manning the station, a couple of outside installation technicians to digitize patterns, but not many others. In the sewing room a lone sewer is busy and a lone manager overseas what little there is to do.

This is not the future of one supplier to the yacht manufacturing and maintenance industry, this is now.
An eighty percent drop in employees, a bottomed out workload, and no real prospects for the future. Upstairs is the upholstery department where upwards of 15 men and women worked as sewers, tackers, strippers, and packers. Today there are four people total.

This is just one industry affected by the collapse of 2008. When the pundits talk recovery, we laugh. When the Dow goes up, we roll our eyes. When the government says we're moving in the right direction, we know better.
Generally, our industry, which is itself a bit of a niche in the overall market, is close to last in feeling the pinch when there's a slowdown. That's because we supply some big names in the yacht industry itself with components. As long as those companies keep building boats, we have orders to fill. Once things slow down, we know that the hurt has gone deeper than the first few layers of skin and is starting hit bone. How much they slow down only emphasizes severity.
Here's an excellent example: at one point in 2005-2006 we were producing exterior upholstery parts for eight models a week of one yacht, one company--aside from the other orders we were filling for that same client. We handled production for as many as 40 yachts a month.
Today, it is about 2, optimistically 3.

I've read lots of blogs and websites of late that talk about the economy, talk about the next round of "collapse", and all the ill that will come upon us. As far as I am concerned, it's already here. Yeah, I still have a job, but the tempo is barely there, the frustration is crippling, and when you see lay-off after lay-off, you have to wonder how much longer the company can stay afloat.
I told a friend recently, "I know why they call it a Depression--it's pretty damn depressing!"
I'm not out to naysay the town criers out there. They know their data. But instead of waiting for the "next" collapse to reach out and try to re-fashion our economy, we ought to look around at what is still standing and try to prop it up somehow. Does that mean more QE? Trade barriers? Duties on US goods produced overseas?
I don't know.
What I do know is that no amount of ingenuity or reinvestment is going to account for the 8-10 million jobs we need, or in any way change the consumer driven market that is the root cause of our problem. It's time to stop asking "What do I have to do make a million bucks?" and start asking "What do I have to do to move a million people?"
That's how I see it, at least.


  1. I am starting to develop mixed feelings about the "next collapse" and market conditions in general.

    While I understand and appreciate that many things going on out there are very real, I cannot help but believe there is a certain culture out there, the super-affluent, that want us to be afraid. They want us to fear the "next collapse" because when everyone is selling out of panic, they are still buying. Homes, land, businesses, information technology, stocks, bonds, gold, oil, etc. It is the the advantage of the wealthy that the rest of us live in fear.

  2. True. We all know that fear is a prime manipulator, and we also know that corporate profits have actually soared since the crisis begin in 2008. This is because so many workers were laid off, so many concession were squeezed out of labor, and pension funds are being ignored or adjusted.
    It is important to understand that when a company says they lost 10-15% of their "profit" in a given quarter or year, that is against whatever previous high they had. It doesn't necessarily mean they are "losing" money.
    More to the point, as to corporate gains, my company took away personal and vacation days and then turned around and told us they could no longer afford to give us healthcare benefits. So we have a skeleton crew that is more or less stripped of any benefit outside of a paycheck.