Economic conference pinpoints needs, concerns

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I attended the recent economic development forum organized by U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson. It was time well-spent for the 60 individuals who showed up. Most major area industries were represented.

Emerson distributed a column by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that included some of the following comments.

"Doing our homework: When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: 'Finish your dinner -- people in China are starving.' I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: 'Finish your homework -- people in China and India are starving for your job.'

"That thought struck me in a visit to Dalian, a port city in northeastern China. It is not just impressive for a Chinese city. With its wide boulevards, beautiful green spaces and nexus of universities, technical colleges and a massive software park, Dalian would stand out in Silicon Valley.

"Dalian symbolizes how much China's most modern cities -- and there are still plenty of miserable, backward ones -- are rapidly grabbing business as knowledge centers, not just manufacturing hubs. No, Toto, they are not just making tennis shoes here. Try GE, Microsoft, Dell, SAP, HP, Sony and Accenture, which are setting up back-room operations here for Asian companies and software R&D centers.

"'I've taken a lot of American people to Dalian, and they are amazed at how fast the China economy is growing in this high-tech area,' said Win Liu, director of U.S.-E.U. projects for DHC, one of Dalian's biggest homegrown companies, which grew from 30 to 1,200 employees in six years. 'Americans don't realize the challenge to the extent that they should. I do have confidence in the American people, though, to take the challenge.'

"'We have 22 universities and colleges with over 200,000 students in Dalian,' the city's mayor, Xia Deren, told me. More than half graduate with engineering or science degrees, and even those who don't are directed to spend a year studying Japanese or English and computer science.

"Although some of what the mayor says gets lost in translation, he gets it -- and we should too: 'The rule of the market economy is that if somewhere has the richest human resources and the cheapest labor, of course the enterprises and the businesses will naturally go there,' he said.

"Just as in manufacturing, he added, 'Chinese people first were the employees and working for the big foreign manufacturers. And after several years, after we have learned all the processes and steps, we can start our own firms. Software will go down the same road. ... First we will have our young people employed by the foreigners, and then we will start our own. It is like building a building. Today, the U.S., you are the designers, the architects, and the developing countries are the bricklayers for the buildings. But one day, I hope, we will be the architects.'

"The Chinese certainly want to believe it's inevitable that they will move from basic software outsourcing to design, but even a top Chinese science planner acknowledges that it won't be easy. Xu Kuangdi, president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, aid to me that for China to advance, 'We have to build more products from our own intellectual property.' But in software, he added, that will require 'improving the innovative capability of the younger generation, which will require some big changes in China's rigid, rote education. Chinese officials, he said, are thinking about such changes right now.' I wouldn't bet against them."

Have your kids finished their homework?

Some of the shared information at the Emerson economic meeting included:

Emerson's congressional district is the ninth poorest (per-capita income) in the country. It also is one of the largest geographically.

Emerson welcomes calls for assistance with industrial firms to help encourage them to locate in the district or not to move from the district.

A number of speakers and audience participants stressed the need to better educate our district students with special focus on sixth-grade math efforts.

Rising health costs and competitive worker's comp costs must be addressed, as the industries have little control over these expenditures.

There is general agreement that the health-care system is broken, and there is a need to emphasize individual responsibility in expenditure containments.

Better communication is needed to high school students to point out that technically trained employees often make more money than those with college educations.

There was general praise by the industries in attendance for the training help and program of Southeast Missouri State University's polytechnic school and the Career and Technology Center on the new Cape Girardeau Central High School campus.

Rick McLeod of Procter & Gamble Paper Products praised the strong community support while pointing out that P&G transportation costs to the East are high and up to 200 round-trip flights to the home office in Cincinnati could have improved connections.

Steven Markus, representing the carpenters union, stressed the union's willingness to cooperate as the "other union."

Kathy Swan, Dennis Roedemeier, Harry Rediger, John Wyman, Jeff Brune, Kevin Cantrell and others offered floor comments.

Scheduled program participants included Emerson, who wrapped up the session; president Ken Dobbins of Southeast Missouri State University; Mitch Robinson, executive director of Cape Industrial Recruitment Association; Mayor Jay Knudtson, who stressed the importance of transportation; Rick Beasley, director, Missouri Division of Workforce Development; and Ron Randen, Missouri Enterprise spokesman.

A number of these state officials stated that if Missouri is to have significant employee and economic growth, Southeast Missouri is the hub area where it must take place.

Talking turkey: If EU diplomats -- particularly those in Paris -- had half a brain, they'd be working overtime to figure out how to bring Turkey into the EU with all deliberate speed. Instead, as France has already made clear, Turkey's long-standing application will likely languish, despite Ankara's good-faith efforts in banning the death penalty, working hard to reunify Cyprus and refusing to join the U.S. last year in liberating Iraq. Europeans, racially and culturally, fear letting Muslim Turkey in, believing they'll be swamped by hordes of Turkish migrants.

Earth to Paris, Brussels, et al.: Muslims are already in Europe. By the millions. They make up nearly 10 percent of France's population, and their numbers are growing rapidly there and elsewhere in western Europe. They are largely unintegrated, even though many are second-and third-generation inhabitants. It's no surprise that a goodly number are bitter about their de facto ghettoization. Muslim communities in Europe are prime breeding grounds for future Islamic extremists. In a few decades, given current trends, Muslims will be the majority population in much of western Europe.

Europe is a demographic disaster. To keep a population stable, there must be a birthrate average of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing years. Among developed countries only America has a rate at or above that replacement level. Europe's is far below: Italy, Spain and Greece are at 1.3; Germany, Austria and Portugal, 1.4; Belgium, 1.6; and the Netherlands and Denmark, 1.7. Even France, which has some of the most aggressive pro-baby policies in the world (e.g., a 16-week mandatory employer-funded maternity leave paid at 80 percent of a worker's earnings for the first two children that includes the right to return to the same job), has a rate of only 1.9.

Bluntly put, Europe's population is not "aging," it is literally dying. As Malcolm Turnbull stated at Australia's National Population Summit 2003: "A stable population with a birthrate of 1.3 loses 1.5 percent of its population each year and within a century will reduce in size by 75 percent. If current birthrates continue, in 100 years the descendants of the current inhabitants of Italy, Spain and Greece will number about 23 percent of their present-day forebears. Will Europe really be allowed to shrink in size, or will other more fertile societies and cultures take the place of the current inhabitants? Why should they not? It has happened before."

Chicken Littles today fret about overpopulation. The problem for Europe is just the opposite. Europeans are an endangered species. What to do about this is a matter for another time. But you'd think EU policy-makers would be trying to figure out how to fully integrate Muslims into their societies, particularly when it comes to shared political and cultural values -- just as the U.S., Canada and Australia do with their immigrants. In short, EU countries should be encouraging and enabling these Muslims to become truly European. -- Steve Forbes, Forbes Magazine

Hallmark of courage: The hallmark of courage in an age of conformity is the capacity to stand on one's convictions, not obstinately or defiantly (these are gestures of defensiveness, not courage), nor as a gesture of retaliation, but simply these are what one believes. -- Rollo May

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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