My son and his girl friend were in town this past weekend and my wife and I took them to The Henry Ford to take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. (Ford’s Rouge plant is the one that builds the F150 pickup. It’s a vertically integrated plant that even includes blast furnaces and a steel mill.) If you’ve never taken a tour of an auto assembly plant, it’s really an incredible experience. To see humans and robots working in unison on a state-of-the-art assembly line to turn piles of sheet metal and thousands of other parts into finished cars and trucks is simply amazing.
Unfortunately, that’s not what we saw. The plant was shut down due to lack of demand. By the time it restarts on September 22nd, it will have been down for two months. There wasn’t a soul in sight, not even a single maintenance worker taking the opportunity to make repairs. No re-tooling for new models. No capital improvements being made. The assembly line was completely empty – no in-process trucks and no stacks of parts. Everything was gone, leaving behind a spotlessly clean but utterly silent manufacturing facility.
The tour still included interesting displays, including movies about the plant’s history and the production process. So we could at least visualize what takes place there. But I think that anyone would be disturbed to see such a modern, efficient factory completely idled, and for such a long period of time. This speaks volumes about the state of our economy. Believe me, folks, this is no business-cycle downturn. All of our domestic auto manufacturers are on the brink of bankruptcy. If they go, they’ll take millions of jobs with them and the entire manufacturing sector of our economy will vanish, dragging down the other sectors with it. And if the manufacturing sector vanishes, there’ll be no getting it back any time soon as we will have lost all of our technical know-how.
The time has come to protect our domestic manufacturing capability. This isn’t just an economic issue. It’s a matter of national security.