ZAGATA: Knowledge Workers? Great, But Traditional Industries Needed, Too

Column by Mike Zagata for November 23, 2018

Knowledge Workers? Great, But
Traditional Industries Needed, Too

Mike Zagata

As I began to read an article in last week’s edition, I felt a surge of excitement.
The author, an elected official, had just stated that her constituents elected her twice because they understand that protecting our environment and growing our economy are not mutually exclusive policies.
That is close to a statement in my recent book, “A Journey Toward Environmental Stewardship.”
My excitement, however, soon switched from positive to anger. Aside from the statement that methane leaks erase all the environmental benefit from switching fuel to natural gas (I found it intriguing the author admits there are benefits), the author goes on the say this is a scientific fact – according to what scientifically refereed journal?
Let’s take a harder look at that claim. If methane leaks erased all the environmental benefit from burning natural gas, then the amount leaked would have to equal the amount burned. That would cut the company’s profit in half. Do you really think a company, any company, would knowingly allow that to happen?
For policy matters of this magnitude, we can’t afford to rely upon the opinion of an advocate who opposes natural gas.
As I read further, I began to feel sympathy for the author and even more so for the people whom she had just called “redundant.” According to her and her reference to a Boston consulting group, the future of our economy is tied to “knowledge-based industry.”
According to her, heavy industry and manufacturing were indeed historically vital to our economy, but we no longer need them. Low-skilled jobs are becoming redundant – in other words, if you don’t have a college degree you’re no longer needed. Wow – and she got elected twice.
Let’s take a look at the facts. When Oneonta’s economy was strong, it benefited from the presence of heavy industry and manufacturing. Companies trained their employees so they would become “knowledge based” and able to perform their jobs.
Many of the companies had apprentice programs to train workers to become more skilled and they were able to advance and make a higher wage – they were “knowledge based” without the buzzword. That’s what built Oneonta.
The notion that we have to move entirely away from that model is nuts. We stand to benefit far more from an approach that nurtures what we had while embracing new types of companies – those that don’t actually build anything. (We sent those companies with their middle-class jobs to Mexico and other countries with poorly thought-out trade policies).
Off the top of my head, I was able to create the following list of companies that can be described as heavy industry/manufacturing: Lutz Feed, Focus Ventures, Brewery Ommegang, The Plains LLC, Northern Eagle, Custom Electronics, Corning, Astrocom, Ioxus, Amphenol, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Brooks Bottling, Wightman Lumber, MAMCO, Covidian, Munson Building Supply, Cobleskill Stone, Oneonta Block Co., DOMO, Otsego Auto Crushers, Seward Sand & Gravel, Clark Companies, RJ Millworks, Eastman Associates, Butts Concrete, Unalam, Leatherstocking, P&R Truss, Medical Coaches and Otsego Ready Mix.
The list is not claimed to be complete and I apologize if your company isn’t listed. However, those companies employ about 2,500 people who don’t consider themselves to be redundant, feel very much “needed” and contribute to our economy. They also vote. Hopefully, Otsego Now will be successful in getting other companies looking for “knowledge-based”
employees to come here. We need them all.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.


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