Ohio Manufacturing Jobs & Presidential Politics


Politics | NAFTA bashing popular, but is it justified? | Seattle Times Newspaper

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At the risk of stirring an unmanageable political debate (please keep the discussion in line with the “respect for people” principle and avoid name calling), it's interesting to hear so much about manufacturing jobs in Ohio. I was born in Dayton and I still have a lot of family in the Youngstown area. As a kid, we drove past the empty shells of closed steel mills as we went to my grandparents' house and that left quite an impression.

So Ohio has been losing industrial and manufacturing jobs since well before NAFTA. NAFTA is being blamed today, particularly by Obama and Clinton, as the main culprit for recent job losses to Mexico or overseas. I'm excluding McCain and the Republicans from the discussion since the primary race is over and the news coverage is dominated by the Democratic side of things.

I'm not an expert on any of this, so my questions, especially for readers in Ohio:

  • What has led to more job loss — NAFTA or business mismanagement (including faulty business cases for moving factories or traditional “mass production” approaches)?
  • What, if anything, would lead to manufacturing jobs returning to Ohio — repealing or changing NAFTA or more aggressively adopting Lean and newer management approaches?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. At the risk of being lambbasted my family is from Ohio but have lived in Canada my whole life. The plant my grandfather worked in for 25 yrs move to a town not from from me 10 yrs ago because of NAFTA. It is now closing because of the weak US dollar and strong CDN. I think cost trumps everything — if lean drives landed shore costs down the jobs will follow. http://www.waittimes.blogspot.com

  2. I believe today’s Wall Street Journal lead editorial, Texas vs. Ohio, provides some instructive background on this issue.

    Nafta has been a strong positive force in both exports and manufacturing job growth throughout Texas. As the Journal further points out, jobs lost in Ohio are moving to more business-friendly places such as Texas. The new General Motors hybrid plant going up near Dallas would be a prime example.

    Texas has no income tax, while Ohio has the third highest corporate income tax in the US and the sixth highest personal income tax. Ohio is a closed union shop state where workers can be forced to join the union, whether they wish to or not. Texas is a right to work state.

    The Journal summarizes “Ohio has an economy burdened by high taxes and work rules that impose heavy costs on employers. Texas embraces free trade, keeps taxes low, doesn’t impose unions on business and has tooled itself for 21st century global competition.

    So, if you were a smart business leader – LEAN or not – where would you want to build a profitable company? It’s not always about LEAN, folks.

  3. This of course begs the question of “free trade” versus “fair trade,” one tinged with an overt politicization into binary oppositions (you can only have one! you must be for one or the other! raaar!).

    If we want to look at the issue of “respect for people,” what does that mean in a Lean setting?

    Is it a living wage or a fair wage based on the surrounding positions?
    Is it treating employs with respect while they are actually at work, regardless of what you pay them or how your economic model works outside of the factory floor?

    Does “respect for people” care over into all aspects of the community or is it just your employee-set?
    If you treat your employees like royalty but dump 2 tons of toxic waste into the local fishing village’s river, are you respecting people?

    Personally, I view NAFTA as a travesty not because of any particular business issue like job loss but due to Chapter 11 of the code.

    I’m going to assume most of you are familiar with it, but its ramifications are rather nasty.
    Basically, a corporation (or individual) can sue a governing body that is a member of NAFTA if any law or regulation they have enacted hae adversely affected their investments.
    These trials are handled by NAFTA tribunals but their decisions are then binding to the laws of the nation.

    So, and this is a horrid gloss, basically a corporation can sue a government and the decision of a tribunal, composed mostly of individuals with corporate ties, can then override the laws enacted by the elected officials of a nation.

    If you think this hasn’t happened, or can’t happen might I refer you to Canada’s ban on MMT – which was forcibly overturned and cost the government 13 million in settlement fees.

    I don’t care about job loss so much as the very real threat of taking government outside the hands of the governed and putting it into the hands of corporate entities solely beholden to profit margins.


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