Listening to the president give his wish list for things to fix the country in his State of the Union address, I was reminded of what I asked from Santa this past Christmas: the return of one factory.
Ideally, it would be one of the General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) plants, like the headquarters of its 115-year-old X-ray business in Waukesha, Wis., which someone decided to move to Beijing last July, costing us 120 jobs. Coincidentally, just a few months before that move, GE CEO Jeff Immelt was appointed the head of Barack Obama's highly touted 26-member Jobs and Competitveness Council.
It seemed like a lump of coal for Waukesha from the new job czar. As one observer noted, perhaps the president forgot to tell him in which country he was supposed to be creating jobs.
But I'm not choosy. It doesn't have to be the plant from Waukesha. Any manufacturing facility would be OK.
Almost everybody agrees that the decline of manufacturing has hurt the country. It's been especially painful in my neck of the woods. There were 14,000 family-owned factories in Newark, N.J., in 1951. By the height of the greener pastures movement (circa 1995), there was only one left. It made specialty mattresses for Bloomingdale's.
My goal is to make it two. And this is more than just a sugar plum fantasy. I have a plan.
For argument's sake, let's assume there might be one disgruntled factory owner abroad -- say, the owner of an American factory whose management succumbed to the allure of 36-cent-an-hour labor costs. The coolie labor age is over in China. Workers suffered for 25 years. Now they are demanding a living wage. There is a lot of inflation. Workers will want a 150% wage increase. They want to live a normal life, sharing in real prosperity -- not just for the guys on top, the commissars driving around in Mercedes. Soon they'll want real unions. The Chinese government will be lucky to avoid being overthrown by the workers again.
My plan is to appeal to expatriate American factory owners where they are most vulnerable -- by using patriotism. Uncle Sam needs them!
Yes, they were the equivalent of corporate terrorists destroying the towns they deserted. But it was all done for a good cause: increasing profits and shareholder dividends. Or so they claimed. Even though it's said that you can't go home again, the administration should say, "Yes, you can, if the price is right."
First of all, declare amnesty for all those rats who left the sinking ship. So what if they brought the country to its knees by diminishing the manufacturing base? Let bygones be bygones.
To make the repatriation offer more attractive, as Obama suggested in his State of the Union message, they should be welcomed back with more than open arms. Let's give them a treasure trove of special compensatory benefits, unfair tax breaks, land grants, all-expenses-paid relocation, and other reverse migration offers they can't refuse.
But the most important element in my plan is treating the returning factory owners as industrial war heroes. Give them ticker tape parades downtown -- the same superstar treatment tendered to World Series and Super Bowl immortals. The sight of CEOs and directors sitting in their convertibles waving to cheering crowds should warm the cockles of the coldest factory management PR people.
Imagine a Medal of Honor struck for the factory owners with the courage to return home. Statues of Industrial Revolutionary War heroes in the town square.
Well, I can dream. Isn't that what Santa Claus and the State of the Union are all about?