The American Worker

This weekend we celebrate the American worker with Labor Day. I grew up in a blue-collar family in Pittsburgh. My grandfather, most of my uncles and many of my cousins worked in steel mills in the Pittsburgh area. My Dad worked briefly in the steel industry. He didn’t like the ups, downs or occasional strikes. He chose less money for more stable employment and became a carpenter. We never had a lot of money for a large family of eight. (I had 5 brothers) But we always had food and a home.

American labor using coal, steel, timber, oil, natural gas and other resources built the USA. I remember my grandfather, who lived near us worked long hours and swing shifts. One week he was on days 8 AM to 4 PM, then 4 PM to Midnight and Midnight to 8 AM. Then he swung back to dayshift. When we visited we had to be quiet when grandpa worked midnights since he was asleep in the evening. Occasionally he worked a double shift, a 16- hour day. Dad worked in maintenance at a VA Hospital so he had regular hours. Dad used his carpentry skills to do side jobs on nights and weekends to pay the bills.

American labor kept us free by winning two World Wars with our energy and manufacturing. American labor supplied the U.S. military and our allies with equipment, uniforms, food and energy to keep them in the fight. In World War II my uncle marched past German tanks that were out of fuel on their way to Berlin. The USA had oil. The Germans didn’t. Good logistics is essential to any successful military. My Dad fought in the Pacific with the Marines during World War II. With most men off fighting the war, women stepped up to take manufacturing jobs. My mother worked in a factory during the War. American factories stopped producing consumer goods like refrigerators and clothing to produce things like tanks and uniforms.

When the USA’s oil and natural gas supply depleted, we became dependent on Middle East oil in the 1970s. We lost our manufacturing jobs, first to the Gulf Coast then overseas to places like China because of their lower labor cost. The shale revolution has again made the USA the leading oil and natural gas producing country in the world. Manufacturing jobs began coming back to the USA. These aren’t my grandfather’s steel or my mother’s manufacturing jobs. Today’s steel and manufacturing jobs are high tech jobs requiring post high school training. They also pay better than yesterdays manufacturing jobs. Less physical labor and fewer workers are required because of automation. Technicians are needed to keep the equipment running. American labor is essential for construction and manufacturing.

A recent study by Shale Crescent USA and Jobs Ohio showed labor is no longer a major manufacturing cost. This is good news for the USA because we can now compete and win against cheap overseas labor. The top three costs today are;

  • Energy
  • Raw materials
  • Transportation, especially ocean transportation.

The USA has a huge advantage in all three of these areas. The Shale Crescent USA (SCUSA) region has unique advantages of its own over other parts of the USA;

  • SCUSA is in the middle of the largest economy in the world, 50% of U.S. population and consumer demand is within a day’s drive of our region. This results in shorter supply chains and closer delivery lowering costs.
  • SCUSA has abundant water for transportation and processing from the Ohio and other rivers.
  • SCUSA has economical abundant natural gas and natural gas liquids for feedstock. If SCUSA were a country only the rest of the USA and Russia have more natural gas. SCUSA has the cheapest natural gas in the industrialized world. Asians and Europeans pay 7-10 times more for their natural gas.
  • SCUSA has an experienced manufacturing work force because of its history in manufacturing. There are numerous schools and programs available for work force training. Once a company decides to come to the SCUSA the next question we usually get is about workers.
  • American labor is producing energy for the world. The USA is the world’s largest energy producer from all sources. U.S. natural gas and coal are keeping lights and heat on in Europe and Asia. U.S. coal and natural gas production are increasing. U.S. emissions are still decreasing.

Companies and manufacturing jobs are coming back to the USA and SCUSA. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2023 said U.S. manufacturing now employs over 13 million people. The USA’s highest level since 2008. The States of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio are seeing incredible economic growth. This week at the West Virginia Chamber’s annual business summit there were three major economic development announcements of new companies coming to West Virginia, creating over 1,000 jobs. Many previously announced projects are now under construction creating good jobs. There are also many smaller projects. My friend in Jackson County West Virginia added 3 additional processing lines and over 20 jobs at his facility this year.

The pandemic showed Americans the danger of not manufacturing critical items like medical equipment, hand sanitizer, healthcare PPE and prescription drugs. Companies are shortening supply chains. Some are now using regional supply chains greatly reducing transportation time and cost. This also lowers their carbon footprint reducing global emissions.

American workers make all of this possible. We have a new younger workforce. Contrary to what we typically hear, they are motivated willing workers. They have different values than previous generations. They prefer to be led not commanded. This requires companies to change management styles. Those in management positions who learn how to lead effectively will be rewarded with a highly productive work force just as in past generations. American workers built the USA and helped to keep it free. Thank a worker. Enjoy your Labor Day Holiday.

Greg Kozera, [email protected] is Director of Marketing and Sales for Shale Crescent USA. (You can follow SCUSA on Facebook) He is a professional engineer with a Masters in Environmental Engineering and over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. Greg is a leadership expert, high school soccer coach, professional speaker, author of four books and numerous published articles.

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