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Caterpillar breaks ground on Seguin, Texas, engine plant

I needed a night to sleep on whether I even wanted blog about Caterpillar’s new Seguin, Texas, engine plant, where ground was broken yesterday (there’s a video of it at this breathless “Happy Days Are Here Again” report from an Austin TV station). An uncle of mine spent his entire working career at the Mossville plant from whence all kinds of jobs are heading south to Texas, so I can’t work up much enthusiasm (revealing my pro-Peoria bias, which is odd, considering I haven’t lived there in nine years).

Of course it’s the biggest news since the Alamo in southeast Texas, but the local reporters conveniently omit the zero-sum nature of this move: the jobs coming to Texas are leaving somewhere else, and the folks losing their jobs in Illinois and South Carolina gotta eat too. Sorry to be a softie, but that bugs me.

Cold reality, though, is that Caterpillar would’ve gone out of business by now if the suits in the big offices hadn’t been able to make brutally efficient calls like this. The Detroit automakers could depend on a certain amount of Yankee patriotism to keep them in business, but Cat had no such luxury. Only way you stay on top in a highly competitive market machinery market is to build stuff that gets work done as promised, and to stay lean, agile and profitable. It’s true for high-tech companies in my Silicon Valley neighborhood and everywhere else.

(Here’s the link for Caterpillar’s job-recruitment site, though I doubt any Seguin openings are listed yet).

Something else the south Texas media could be forgiven for not knowing because they didn’t live through it like all us Central Illinois kids in the early ’80s: Plant expansions can be planned years in advance but getting them up and running is subject to current economic conditions. Caterpillar nearly got ruined by unfavorable currency exchange rates back then, and the result was an empty steel skeleton that stood outside the Morton parts plant for years on end. It’s not a done deal till the engines start coming off the lines.

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Tom Mangan posted at 8:00 am January 22nd, 2009 |

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