Why Did You Do That, General Electric and Jeff Immelt?

Prepare yourselves, JimOnLight.com readers, I’m about to ramble.

jeff immelt GE

I just read a very disappointing article by Mike Elk at the Huffington Post.  I guess at this point in the scope of American manufacturing, money handling, crooked business practices, and corporations rear-ending the population out of everything we’ve saved in past years that I shouldn’t be surprised.

Oh, but I am.  I am surprised, and I’m starting to get a little more than frustrated with all of the lies and corporate BS.

Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, a major player in lighting and sustainable electricity generation, has been leading the charge over the last bit of time on bringing jobs to the United States and doing all kinds of butt-kicking exporting.  He even made a nice little speech a few weeks ago in Detroit.  I’ve gone ahead and highlighted some portions for you to emphasize my point:

Throughout my career, America has seen so much economic growth that it was easy to take it as a given. We prospered from the productivity of the information age. But, we started to forget the fundamentals and lost sight of the core competencies of a successful modern economy. Many bought into the idea that America could go from a technology-based, export-oriented powerhouse to a services-led, consumption-based economy – and somehow still expect to prosper.
That idea was flat wrong. And what did we get in the bargain? We’ve seen a great vanishing of wealth. Our competitive edge has slipped away, and this has hit the middle class hard.

As a nation, we’ve been consuming more than we earn, saved too little and taken on far too much debt. Growth in research and development has slowed. Our country has made too little progress on some of the defining challenges of our time – like clean energy and affordable health care. Our budget and trade deficits have reached levels that are clearly not sustainable.

While some of America’s competitors were throttling up on manufacturing and R&D, we deemphasized technology. Our economy tilted instead toward the quicker profits of financial services. While our financial services business has performed well, I can’t tell you that we were entirely free of these errors. We weren’t.

Leaders missed many opportunities to add to the capabilities of America. In 2000, the U.S. had a positive trade balance of high-tech products. By 2007, our trade deficit of the same products reached $50 billion. We have already lost our leadership in many growth industries, and other new opportunities are at risk. Trust in business is badly shaken, and it is going to take awhile to get it back.

Third: We must make a serious commitment to manufacturing and exports. This is a national imperative. We all know that the American consumer cannot lead our recovery. This economy must be driven by business investment and exports.

We should set a national goal to create high value added jobs and have manufacturing jobs be no less than 20 percent of total employment, about twice what it is today. And we should commit ourselves to compete and win with American exports.

Wow, this is really uplifting, right?  GO AMERICA!  Unfortunately, at the same time Immelt was barking at the American exporting tree, he was also canceling a large order for wind turbine parts from a company called ATI Casting Service in LaPorte, Indiana, and ordering the parts from a Chinese company for import.  Way to go, Jeff.  That doesn’t seem to me to be a good way to keep your stock price up, you know what I’m sayin’, Jeffy?

The one thing I don’t think I’ll ever understand (probably because I’ll never be obscenely rich) is how much money you have to have to be happy.  I can’t see myself being all Scrooge McDuck with a big pool of cash, but I feel like I’m the kind of person that would feed back into the growth of things like, well, my industry, for one.  I certainly wouldn’t lie about it, especially if I was the CEO of General Electric.

Just recently, this company ATI Casting made a large investment in operations to meet the demands of GE’s need.  From Mike Elk’s article:

Recently, ATI made $30 million worth of investments to buy, convert, and modernize a shuttered factory in economically ravaged Michigan so the company could provide more parts to GE as the green economy expands with federal stimulus funding. But a Chinese firm underbid ATI, and the factory faced having to lay off 302 union workers and shutter the plant.

In an aggressive bid to keep the factory open, ATI offered to match the price of the Chinese producers. GE once again said they would prefer to buy from China. The ATI plant is now closed, the jobs gone.

Oh yeah – did I mention that Jeff Immelt is on President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board?  Did I also mention that GE is bagging millions in economic stimulus money?

An article at the Detroit Bureau comments more on Immelt’s “all-go-no-quit-big-nuts” commentary on exporting:

Immelt said the only way out of the current predicament is for the U.S. to invest more in research and development. Second, the U.S. needs to address the challenge of clean energy and affordable health care and third, make a serious commitment to manufacturing and exports. Manufacturing jobs should represent 20% of the U.S. employment base not the current 10% which is shrinking.

China is pushing manufacturing, he said. “America has got to get back in the game,” said Immelt.

Immelt also said U.S. business should welcome government intervention as a catalyst for change.  “Over the last generation, America’s ‘Service strategy’ was too weak and our goals were too low,” he said.

Really.  I mean, I totally agree – but how, Jeffy My Boy, are we supposed to be exporting jobs and sinking money into American technology when you’re dumping money into China’s economy and NOT dumping it into the economy you keep preaching needs saving?  Pick one, already!

Jeffy boy, if I could offer a little advice – if you lie, you have to remember all of the parts and pieces of your story.  If you tell the truth, that’s all you have to remember.  You and Tim Geithner need to have some classes in etiquette.

Thanks to Mike Elk, Senator Sherrod Brown, Businessweek, and NPR.

Time to Focus – The Realization of A Little Dark and Quiet

An excellent lighting discussion took place a few days ago on The Light Network about “focus time” for lighting designers and how it gets squandered by other departments – occasionally you just get whined at the entire time, if not bombarded by 120db of pink noise while you have people climbing around truss.  This specific conversation discusses entertainment lighting, but architectural lighting also has situations where dark and quiet are needed.  If you’ve been on the road and/or done lots of one-offs, you probably know the wonderment of trying to get dark time to either focus conventionals or update moving light focus palettes before the show whilst load-in is occurring.  You know, vital, aesthetic changing lighting production elements that need to be given time to be performed.  It’s not without resistance though – from being blasted by the PA while trying to communicate with electricians to people complaining about having work light.  Dark and quiet are our friends – but we’re the only ones.

Now don’t get me wrong – no matter what the genre of lighting design, when you have to interrupt the work or change the method of getting something done with darkness and noise suppression, it’s not always going to be a popular thing.  I do get a kick out of those touring situations where at 2 PM (or whenever PM) the lighting department gets dark and quiet onstage every day, yet people still bitch about it.

Tim Olson, a user at The Light Network, had a great comment about this very subject during the conversation.  I’ve pasted it below.  Thanks for letting me post this again, Tim!

I try to be accommodating during loadin when I can. I frequently do a focus with full house lights blasting away at me, but that only roughs things in and requires tweaking after you do get darkness, especially when you’re close to vid screens.

that being said, if you’re a stagehand and not used to having a flashlight and working in the dark, what world have you been in?

things that do matter: safety. if heavy stuff is being built on stage, they need to be able to see for safety reasons. practical: if full overheads will allow the work to be done in 15 minutes, and darkness would make it 2 hours – blast away w/the overheads, and go get a cup of coffee, or work on something else for a while.

audio – it NEVER FAILS, no matter how early or late I am, as SOON as I start focusing and need to be able to speak to the person in the lift or across the room, it’s time for the audio FOH engineer to put 120DB of pink noise in the room. maybe this is my own personal karma, maybe not. I will get in the engineers face if me or someone that works for me gets nailed when they are working in front of the PA. this can have long-term effects on personal health and is not acceptable in any way shape or form. Production Mgt has always backed me up in this.

I understand that MY attitude can set the tone of the room, therefore I always approach other departments with humor and respect, the same way I want to be approached. it’s a guarantee, if you come at someone with a full head of steam, defensive walls pop up and even if they listen and do what you want, they won’t like it and will find ways to mess with you. If my way of being promotes teamwork then that attitude is “catching”. if my attitude is “F U” than THAT is catching as well.

give it a test for yourself: the next time you find yourself thinking “that guy is a jerk” (which can happen in the first 2 seconds of a gig), try adjusting the way you think about someone. Recognize the power you have to set the atmosphere of the gig, and that if you start actively thinking that someone’s a jerk, you are re-inforcing THAT atmosphere all day. if you like working in a war zone, go right ahead.

when I catch myself going in the “he’s such a jerk” direction, I immediately start thinking things like,

“I bet he really wants to do a good job”
“I bet he really has some good skills”

that small of a shift in your thinking can change the entire room. give it a shot next time and see what happens.

The Light Network is a great place to belong if you’re a lighting professional.  LN folk are good folk!

I’m Sorry to Hear About Michael Jackson, Patrick Woodroffe and Crew

Yes, Michael Jackson passed away this last week.  The CNN gang refused to let us know about that little fact (I’m a CNN watcher, it’s true) and by day three I was pretty sure that Michael Jackson had still departed this Earth.

What no one is talking about, however, is the fact that in addition to the rental costs that the supply companies (PRG) are going to lose, the MJ crew and designers are now out of work.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re all seasoned professionals, and I bet they will still all have work.  What I am most bummed about is that now we don’t get to see the wonderment, high production and design values, and overall art that the team had almost created.  Unless the “King of Pop” is planning a publicity stunt and we’re all about to be totally duped, these folks are out of a gig – and we all miss out on the excellent work, reviews, trade publications, and other cool stuff that happens when a huge show hits the papers.  Patrick Woodroffe, I was looking forward to reviewing your work.  I’ll just catch the next one.

I really hope that the networks at least spend 15 seconds talking about the production.  From what I am hearing, it was huge, and pretty beautiful.  I’m sorry to Michael Jackson’s family, friends, and fans about his passing, as it blows to lose a friend – but I’m also sorry that the people who make him look and sound so good are now out of work.  I hope you folks all find new work, and in short order.