February 2008 Issue

First Word: 02/08

Let me make you president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a moment and place you in Cessna’s boardroom at the opposite end of a 60-foot mahogany conference table from Jack Pelton. You’ve just heard a team of MBAs explain how manufacturing the new Skycatcher LSA in China will reduce the cost of goods by $70,000. Your job is to convince Cessna that it’s wrong to ship the work to China. Here’s the PowerPoint mouse, what’s your pitch? (Send me an e-mail with the high points covered.) Acknowledging as how that $70,000 figure may be a plant for gullible reporters, only the equally gullible would believe that a U.S. factory could somehow match the China numbers. If we were talking about machine parts or plastics or some other segment where highly productive automation can beat Chinese cheap labor in productivity and quality, you’ve got a shot. But metal airplanes are still built with ballpeen hammers, Clecos and tin shears—lots of hand operations, not much CAM. You could play the emotional, patriotic card, but that won’t fly against the MBA’s remorseless spreadsheet.

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