Iowa needs to heed Maytag lessons

Iowa needs to heed Maytag lessons
 
Date May 17, 2006
Section(s) Local News
   
 
CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — The chief executive officer of Rockwell Collins Inc. is sounding warnings about the state’s manufacturing climate, saying Iowans need to heed lessons from the demise of Maytag Corp.

“If we don’t lead, then all of us run the risk of falling victim the same way that great Iowa company did,” Clay Jones said Tuesday at an advanced manufacturing conference at Kirkwood Community College.

Whirlpool Corp. of Benton Harbor, Mich., bought Maytag on March 31, making Maytag a subsidiary of Whirlpool. Last week, the company announced it was eliminating around 4,500 jobs by closing three Maytag plants in Illinois, Iowa and Arkansas, and consolidating corporate offices and other sites. A Maytag plant and the company’s corporate headquarters in Newton were on the list.

Jones said the lessons are that Iowans must be able to work together, to adapt quickly to change and to accept the rapidly changing demands of a global marketplace.

According to data compiled by Iowa State University, manufacturing in Iowa far surpasses agriculture, contributing 21 percent of the gross state product.

A state task force that examined the needs of Iowa’s manufacturing sector five years ago identified a supportive regulatory environment, access to needed technology and access to a skilled work force as the top issues.

“Abundant challenges” remain, Jones said.

Access to skilled workers is the most serious challenge, according to Jones, whose aviation electronics company employs 9,000 in Iowa.

Jones said Iowa’s “worldclass educational system” has been the key to much of the state’s success in manufacturing, but that resource is at risk.

“From K-12 to higher education, all the way back to early childhood education, every single one of those levels of education has been talked about as being either underfunded, or underappreciated, or both, in the state for what it generates,” he said.

Jones said educators and manufacturers should work together to understand what is needed to produce the next generation of skilled workers and set funding priorities to focus scarce resources on meeting those educational goals.

“If we are to grow in this state, given the realities of the population base and war for talent that exists across this nation and around the world, we are going to have to do more than compete in our county, or our state, or our nation for talent.

“The face of Iowa is going to have to change,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to become a more inclusive and welcoming state, and a more diverse state.”

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