Maybe Saving the World, New England, New Green Economy

Lynn Tilton Talks Back to New Hampshire

The 9th Annual Governor’s Advanced Manufacturing and High Technology Summit was held in Manchester, New Hampshire on December 7, 2011.  The annual event was kept under 500 attendees and tends to be fairly exclusive.

Featured speakers in December included NH Governor John Lynch and Lynn Tilton, a business mogul who is over-the top-well-dressed, a la Venus and Serena Williams.  Tilton was called “an unlikely combination of fashionista and Warren Buffett” by ABC news.   She’s a self-made billionaire (yes, with a b) and the CEO of a private equity firm and holding company that manages 76 companies worldwide.

Governor talks about walking the walk   First, Governor John Lynch– one of the most popular governors in history who is serving well into his third term — kicked off the event with an inspiring talk about New Hampshire’s exemplary economy.  Lynch reminded the audience of key achievements of New Hampshire, such as the low unemployment rate and low high school drop out rate.  He referenced a recent quote from President Obama:

While you’re in New Hampshire, instead of telling New Hampshire what you would do to make things better, consider asking what New Hampshire is doing and emulating that.

– President Obama, put to candidates coming to New Hampshire for the Primary (paraphrased by John Lynch, 12/7/11)

Lynn Tilton talks back  Lynn Tilton’s talk came next and sounded a more somber note.  She talked about the state of manufacturing in the greater US and pointed out that the picture is bleak.

“Americans want to get to work,” Tilton said.  “And they cannot.”

America as a “service economy” is dead, she said (if that idea were ever really alive).

“Americans want to work with their hands,” she said.  “And they cannot find work.”  The New Hampshire economic and labor landscape is an exception to this, with credit to John Lynch’s tenure in the state house.  But nationwide a shortage of jobs is certainly a problem.

Tilton clarified her position that people thrive on real work, not mental work like data entry.  “Satisfying jobs, where people make things, do things,” Tilton explained, as opposed to jobs where people push paper, answer phones  or do other, more cerebral tasks with no clear production.

(This is a nice sound bite, but bear in mind that when people “work with their hands” in Tilton’s automobile factories in Detroit, they’re on an assembly line, picture Laverne & Shirley; these are are not exactly pink-cheeked, strong-fingered souls hand-crafting canoes out of pine trees or crocheting blankets from flax for the winter ahead — never mind fishing, hunting or digging, cutting or planting in the great outdoors.   This is a factory assembly line here.)

(In fact, Seth Godin recently suggested that the old, industrial-revolution-style “factory system” as a basis for an economy — either a local or national economy — is no longer a reality.  Read:  the new economy by Seth Godin.)

Incoming… hopefully   Regardless, families need an income in this society.  Tilton talked about children whose guardians have none, children who are homeless, living in vehicles, bathing in public restrooms before school.  She drew from her own life experience where she saw first hand how a family can implode when one parent is no longer working (her father passed away when she was in college, she says she saw how losing a working parent radically changed the family’s situation and prospects).  Tilton said that what gets her up in the morning is the idea that she might provide economic infrastructure and opportunity so that one more person can work, for one more family to have a home and a secure life.

Her mission, she says, is to save America one family at a time.

The audience was pin-drop attentive during Tilton’s presentation.  This respect is partly due to her dossier, partly due to the fact that she’s an engaging speaker, and partly because everyone in attendance is very aware of Tilton putting action behind her words: she recently bought and resurrected New Hampshire’s ailing (if not deceased) Gorham Paper Mill, providing hundreds of area families the chance at – in her words – the American Dream.

Overall, the Ninth Annual Governor’s Advanced Manufacturing and High Technology Summit was an exceptional day.  The event featured sessions on supply chain with representatives from area companies such as Sturm-Ruger, Timken Aerospace and New Hampshire Ball Bearing.  Sponsors included Actio Corporation, BAE Systems, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

This year’s event was sold out and arguably over capacity.  With more manufacturing companies coming to NH all the time – some high-profile, such as Andrea Rossi’s e-Cat cold fusion reactor plant which is slated to open in Bedford, right outside of Manchester – next year’s event will be a must-attend as well.


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