Almost Heaven

Turning Point

Recently, I was able to cross off a line item on my bucket list.

Recently, I was able to cross off a line item on my bucket list. Thanks to a Christmas gift from our children, my wife and I spent a weekend at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs, W. V.

Having grown up in West Virginia (there, I said it), the Greenbrier has held an allure for me from childhood. Heck, West Virginia native Slammin’ Sam Snead was the golf pro there for many years. Now it’s Tom Watson. Who wouldn’t be impressed?

Many of the people I knew growing up would go to the Greenbrier, and their stories about the place sounded almost magical to a wide-eyed impressionable kid (me). Since then, I’ve been blessed to travel extensively around the world and report back to our readers the many cool things I’m able to see on your behalf.

So it may seem like a short trip back to my home state isn’t such a big deal when one considers all of the places I’ve seen, but that would be incorrect. The Greenbrier is a top destination.

There are some very cool things to see and do at the resort. No longer a secret, the “bunker” at the Greenbrier is an amazing tour and testament to America in the Cold War. The size of two football fields, it is completely underground. It was designed and built during the Eisenhower administration as a relocation center for the U.S. Congress should Washington be bombed. It has a capacity for 1,200 people and was top secret for more than 30 years. It makes me wonder where the new one is. 

Being from West Virginia, I have suffered the many slings and arrows from non-natives about hillbillies and other disparaging, dare I say ignorant remarks about the history and image of my home state. While some of these images may have been justified at one time or another, most are simply biases that get passed on with little or no effort to dig a little deeper for the truth.

As my wife and I were driving to the Greenbrier, through some of the most beautiful terrain I have seen anywhere in my travels, I began thinking about how misconceptions can become what some might consider truths. This thinking led me to consider how manufacturing suffers from an image problem that is not unlike West Virginia’s. Those of us involved in modern manufacturing know and understand that it is an interesting and vital economic cog in the nation’s health and welfare. What is frustrating is the lack of understanding from the general public, news media, politicians and financial moguls of its critical role.

Too many of these people are stuck in an archaic conception that what we do in our businesses and shops is more akin to the 19th century industrial revolution than it is to the computer revolution that is today’s industrial revolution. Yes, we still make things, and many of them are from metal, but the processes employed to manufacture are as far afield from the general perception as a West Virginian is from feuding with a neighbor.

As a West Virginian, I am proud to say I am one, and as a person involved in metalworking manufacturing, I am also proud to say what I do. Part of my role in these two aspects of who I am, a West Virginian and a manufacturing guy, involve trying to change the wrong perception that so many people have of both.

We West Virginians will have to take on the challenge of image management ourselves—there aren’t that many of us. However, we in manufacturing can and must continue to educate those who are ignorant of what’s really happening in our field.

The only way to solve the skilled worker shortage and ensure a healthy, wealth production manufacturing sector is to educate the uneducated. So many people tend to fall back on time-worn prejudices that are wrong and yet seem comfortable.

It’s up to those of us who know and understand the truth, whether it be a voice for West Virginians, and other maligned places, or standing up for the positives of manufacturing today and in the future, we are the ones who have to do the lifting. Nobody is going to do it for us.

It is encouraging that I hear the word manufacturing mentioned more frequently these days in the press and the halls of government, but I wonder if there is understanding with those mentions. Time will tell, but our industry’s PR job goes on. Take me home, country roads.