The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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America is still the land of opportunity

Today, I took a factory tour of ZF Transmissions. I am a total geek when it comes to things like this. I am intrigued by the process of how intricate machines are created - from start to finish. Shows like "How Things are Made" mesmerize me - especially the ones about crayons, M&Ms and other colorful items. Watching items move through a series of conveyer belts, robotic arms, filling stations and packaging processes beats any mystery or crime show on TV. I'm not an NCIS girl at all.
I have taken several factory tours. My initiation was BMW's North American plant where X5 and X6 sport utility vehicles are assembled. The engines are produced in Germany and shipped here, but the bodies of the automobile are assembled here in the states. I remember being amazed at how clean the factory appeared. It seemed you could literally eat off the floor.
Westminster Cracker was another tour I was lucky enough to experience. From the giant vats of flour being churned to the freshly baked oyster crackers flowing out of the ovens, it was a sight to behold. And it smelled great to boot!
A year ago I toured the distribution center of JM Smith Drug. It was hypnotic - and that was not because they gave out any samples. Looking at bins and bins of drug store products and watching an order be filled, packaged and shipped - all done under the watchful eye of FDA standards - was mind-boggling.
As much as I drool over the intricacies of nuts, bolts, ball bearings, gears and how they all come together, I am much more awestruck by the people I see working in these plants. They take pride in their work and they appear to enjoy it. Our guide at ZF Transmission has worked for the company for 21 years. He could not spew enough accolades about his employer.
When we were kids, our dads held jobs for long spans of time. It wasn't odd for a man to spend his entire working career at one company, collecting his gold watch and pension when he reached retirement age. It was also likely that several generations of the same family worked at the same company. Workers took pride in their craft and knew the company had their back.
Then American experienced a manufacturing downturn. Jobs were outsourced overseas and factory towns became depressed, we see this in our own community. American workers bounced from job to job, taking whatever they could get for any length of time. Families were fractured as the breadwinners made moves to other states in order to secure enough work to feed the family.
But in typical "grass is always greener" fashion, manufacturers discovered that the American work ethic truly was a notch above. Opportunities once again exist in the good old USA.
Prior to my ZF tour, I listened to a presentation by the finance directors of Continental Tire. A German-based company, they just dumped a half billion dollars into Sumter, SC - a town that was dying on the vine. It is estimated that 1,700 jobs will be available at Continental's plant. I was most impressed when the presenters explained that every employee at their plant is expected to volunteer to give back to their community. They are excited about upgrading the quality of life for the residents. They also want to see generations of families make Continental their home.
Life is a series of events that come full circle.
As a Boomer, I am old enough to witness the backside of the process. Does poverty exist in this country? Sure. But so does opportunity for those who seek the fruits of their labors. And what is really ironic is that many of the new manufacturing plants being built in the US are by foreign-based companies!
America has always been known as a melting pot. The burner on the stove has been turned back up to high and those who wish to enjoy the buffet need not go far.
I know my children, and their children, will have access to the same hopes and dreams my parents and grandparents had - work hard and you will be rewarded.
America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. There is no place else I'd rather be.
Cindy Phillips is a columnist for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at