Keene De/Reindustrialization

Like the nation as a whole, Keene, New Hampshire went through a period of difficult industrial transformation between 1970 and 2015. Yet Keene’s story is not one of deindustrialization; though the numbers employed have declined, Keene continues to design and manufacture cutting edge products. How did the machinists, engineers, owners, managers, and financiers in the community of Keene pull together to fight to retain a vibrant industrial base in this one corner of the Connecticut River Valley?

Phil Hillker, Machinist, at Kingsbury in 1987.

Phil Hillker, Machinist, at Kingsbury in 1987.

Personal relationships and human decisions mediated larger forces of globalization, technological change, and a changing financial environment. Dr. Duggan and her upper level students in IIECON 399: Keene De/Reindustrialization aim to record oral history interviews with the people who guided each other through this challenging forty year period. We hope that the people we talk to will be willing to have the transcriptions of these interviews deposited in the Historical Society of Cheshire County so we leave a record for posterity of the efforts made during this time of great transformation. If that is too formal for some, the students will carry their ideas forward in their minds and written essays for the course. As student Mike Grazewski explained, speaking to one person for two hours is more transformative than reading many books. Indeed, the impact of speaking to experienced leaders is visible as the students begin during this semester to become dependable and knowledgeable professionals ready to engage in their own communities.

Play below to hear machinist Phil Hilliker speaking to students Kyle Foote and Jon Fagan in Feb. 2015 (2 minutes 53 seconds).

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Bretton Woods 1944 and Greece in 2015

On January 30, 2015, I was reading the London paper–ok, I was not in London. I was sitting in my pink bathrobe in my kitchen in New Hampshire having my morning coffee (the pause after getting two kids on the bus and before I cleaned up the kitchen).The paper is the Guardian, I was brushing up on this new Greek political party Syriza.  I’m reading and I come across my name, “Economist Marie Christine Duggan…”  I did a double take.  The author was using my article on Keynes’ 1944 proposal to reform the international financial system at Bretton Woods, NH to explain how Germany and Greece could work out their debt problem.  You can see what I was reading here: article in the Guardian.

Basically, Keynes would have said that Germany should use the money Greece pays on its debt to either import from Greece, build joint ventures in Greece, or donate to Greece. Under those conditions, Greece repaying Germany would make both debtor and creditor stronger–and force both to behave responsibly.   I figured if someone else was reprinting my ideas, I should get out there and make the case myself, so I got data from the IMF on Greek balance of payments, and put this together for Dollars & Sense in May/June 2015: Marie Duggan on Greek Debt.

Indeed, this is what we figured out in my classroom, ISECON 360: History of Economic Ideas between 2007 and 2012, which resulted in a more scholarly article in the Review of Radical Political Economy. My point was that deindustrialization of the US was by no means an automatic implication of globalization, and further that it had little to do with US wages being high (US real wages fell 1973-1993, so that’ never been a good explainatory variable for US factories closing).  Instead, the financial system that people like Keynes had worked so hard to subordinate to useful human activity had escaped the wise restrictions.

Now the courageous and dashing Dr. Ianis Varoufakis is using Keynes’ idea of a recycling mechanism to try to hold Europe together.  He is really standing up for all people who have had easy debt marketed to them by banks that did not care about anyone’s capacity to repay (such as my students).  May the force be with him and Syriza.  This is June 2015, and they have a tough week ahead.

Dr. Ianis Varoufakis, Greece

Dr. Ianis Varoufakis, Greece

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Deindustrialization/Reindustrialization, Keene 1970-2012

 

Students Greg Hall, Pat Murphy and Dan Bayrouty with Prof. Marie Duggan

The juniors and seniors of Econ 455: US Economic History were recently invited to discuss our research on Keene’s industrial history with leaders in the business community.

 

 

 

 

Mary Ann Kristiansen of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship faciliated the meeting of business leaders and students.

Ray Anderson (Knappe and Koester) and Don Brehm (founder of Pneumo)

 

Ray Anderson of Knappe and Koester had given our class a tour of his cutting-edge machine shop earlier in the semester.  He feels the pressure of international competition sharply, and maneuvers carefully to innovate and expand while cutting costs.

 

Don Brehm founded Pneumo in 1962 with his invention, the air bearing guage.  Mr. Brehm told us that passion makes the difference, and government contracts played a key role in the growth of his business. 

 

 

David Schuster

David Schuster explored the industrial cluster spauned by Pneumo with metrology, diamond turning machines, and optics in Keene. 

 

 

Michelle Partridge

 

Michelle Patridge described how an industrial cluster promotes innovation.

 

 

 

Greg Hall discussed the industrial history of the Connecticut River Valley, including Pratt and Whitney in Hartford, and Bryant Grinding in Springfield, VT.

 

 

Francis Bonnell (sitting with Norm Fiske of RCAM) discussed the printing business at Markem under F.A. and David Putnam.

 

 

 

We were enthused to learn that Ken Abbott’s ABTech is a family business, with three generations participating.  ABTech makes air bearing guages today.

Maureen Curtis of Timken MPB reminded us that a good financial expert can shine the light on the origina of  profits or losses.  She also echoed a sentiment we had heard from our interviews: not enough young people are attracted by manufacturing careers.  Student Chris Hinchey discussed how MPB came to Keene and founded precision grinding here, and Joe Katin discussed how Timken had invested against the cycle in a smelting plant in the early 1980s, using the latest technology from Japan.

 

Dan Bayrouty discussed that machinists like to be maanged by hands-on people, which is one reason workers on Springfield, VT were unhappy when Textron bought out Fellows Gearshaper, Bryant Grinding, and Jones and Lamson in the 1970s.  Pat Murphy explained that sales of machine tool firms are extremely cyclical, and in downturns the conglomerate may favor businesses that are less impacted.  Joe Bohenek discussed the culture of innovation promoted by social ties between technical people; for example, the Keene Astronomy Club may foster ties between people who make lenses. 

Joe Bohenek

Mayor Kendall Lane and Jim Pelto of SPDI listen to Norm Fiske of RCAM

 Jim Pelto teaches the next generation of young people who will go into manufacturing at Keene State’s Sustainability and Product Design major (SPDI).  Norm Fiske brings the educational community together with business needs through the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM).

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