Just minutes west of the Loop is a two-mile-long band of old industrial buildings–the Kinzie industrial corridor–that looks like a throwback to another era. The buildings, decrepit brick structures originally clustered along a railroad spur, now bounded on all sides by poor residential neighborhoods and served by potholed streets, offer little visible reason for optimism about the future of manufacturing in the city.
But the area looks quite different to June Lavelle. A hardworking organizer for a neighborhood industrial council, Lavelle used a modest federal grant to turn a partially abandoned plumbing fixtures factory there into an “incubator” that in eight years has helped hatch a hundred successful small businesses, most of them small manufacturers.
Established manufacturers in the area have been strengthened in the process. The vitality of the incubator and the community services established along with it, such as security and snow removal, have helped to triple real estate values, ease business financing, and reduce vacancy rates while raising employment in the Kinzie corridor by 1,000 jobs since 1980. Many of the businesses have invested in new computerized technology, rationalized their shop-floor organization, improved product quality, and developed new products. They have lobbied the city and state to promise much-needed street improvements.
An incubator is a building that provides low-cost space to budding entrepreneurs and lots of backup facilities they might not be able to afford separately: clerks, photocopiers, computers, accountants . . . The first incubator in the Kinzie corridor–which is about five blocks wide and runs from Halsted to Sacramento–is almost full; and now Lavelle has opened a second one, this one privately funded. Tough-minded, innovative, a former opera singer from a downstate farm, Lavelle is off on new adventures. She is trying to stimulate the metalworking firms in the area to adopt the best manufacturing techniques by helping them compare their productivity to the rest of the industry. She dreams of establishing a “tool park” of programmable, flexible manufacturing equipment that could be shared by a number of firms that individually cannot afford such machinery. For example, the half-dozen furniture designers in her incubator would be able to move from strictly custom work to the brief model runs of specialized production.
The secret? Lavelle and her manufacturing neighbors have rediscovered an old idea. Despite the Reagan-era rhetoric of cowboy capitalism in wide-open markets and the predatory takeover ploys that preoccupy big business, cooperation and community are keys to the vitality of small manufacturing. This is better understood in many parts of Europe, which offers a new model for the revival of American production: innovative, flexible specialization by mutually supportive small manufacturers who respect their workers and their communities.
In stark contrast to the modestly revived Kinzie corridor are the wreckage of the Wisconsin steel mill on the south side of Chicago and the dozens of other industrial hulks that sit entirely vacant or else limp along with a handful of workers. The statistics are as grim as the imagery. Since industry peaked just after World War II, 400,000 manufacturing jobs–60 percent of Chicago’s total–have vanished from the city, a fourth of those lost in the crash of the late 70s and early 80s. The metropolitan region has fared better, since many manufacturers have simply moved to the suburbs or started up there. Even so, the shocks to U.S. manufacturing in recent years have been felt in Chicago’s outlying areas as well.
The biggest blows have been dealt to some of the biggest employers. Factories run by Zenith, Schwinn, Sunbeam, Western Electric, International Harvester, and Playskool were among the more than 100 plants employing over 250 people each that shut their doors during the recent collapse–many of them replaced by new factories in other parts of the country or overseas.
Chicago had been a crucible in the development of American business. The meat-packing business–the original disassembly line–preceded Ford’s watershed auto assembly. The railroads were the prototypical modern corporations. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward shaped the mass consumer culture. The giant nationwide market for standardized, mass-produced goods sustained the explosion of economic growth in the United States in the past century.
But in the shadow of the giants, Chicago also nurtured many small and medium-sized manufacturers. They supplied the anonymous widget that went into the recognizable final product or filled a special niche slighted by the mass producer. Often these were family-owned firms, started by a skilled craftsman or tinkerer. Most relied on skilled, versatile workers who were decently paid, even if some others were little better than sweatshops. And one study a few years ago estimated that 50 to 60 percent of the manufacturing jobs that remained in Chicago were in firms with 50 or fewer employees.
It has been easy to ignore the small firms. Who notices when a metal plater or screw machine shop employing 25 people disappears? But the cumulative damage is great, not merely for the jobs lost but for the harm done to a network of customers and suppliers and similar firms, to a city’s infrastructure of trained workers.
During the postwar years, many American companies grew fat and lazy. There was little competition in oligopolistic industries, and “Fordist” production techniques emphasized long production runs, routinized and “deskilled” work, and minimal innovation or attention to quality. Workers typically were treated less as a skilled resource than as a natural antagonist of business to be eliminated when possible and kept powerless and replaceable otherwise. But the better-paid workers who remained enlarged the domestic market for mass-produced goods.
Other countries, however, were learning how to mass-produce and eventually how to surpass their American mentors. U.S. businessmen made this task easier by turning their attention to marketing and finance, instead of to innovation in either design or production. The increasing integration of the world economy meant that once-isolated American manufacturers faced challenges from both Europe and Japan and the low-wage, newly industrializing countries.
“Chicago manufacturing had a major decline, and it was primarily in the areas of mass assembly, where cheap labor could greatly reduce costs,” said John Kennedy, president of James Electronics, a successful north-side manufacturer of electronic components that employs 165 workers. “Assembly of television sets is the most vivid example. I first of all blame management, which lost its desire to risk for the future by investing in automation and new plants. I was able to survive because I highly automated my plant.” Many of his bigger counterparts took the easy road: emigration rather than innovation, blaming their workers rather than confronting management’s weaknesses.
And for all its importance to the city, politicians in the past have given little attention to manufacturing, which was, in its turn, so often disconnected from city politics and aloof from local communities. This was especially so when the facilities were owned by large absentee corporations. “Chicago has always been a city of thousands of fiercely independent entrepreneurial agents,” said Kennedy, who serves on the city’s Economic Development Commission. “Manufacturing didn’t want the city to be interested in it. Through the early 70s the manufacturing end of the city was quite isolated from the city and city politics. Mayor Daley turned most of his attention to saving the city center. But once the movement of manufacturing out of the city began, there were no good lines of communications between the city and manufacturers.” Downtown real estate development better fit machine politics: big fortunes rested on zoning deals, and new office buildings offered quick tax revenue.
In recent years the climate has changed. In numerous communities, local development corporations have been formed and linked together through citywide groups such as the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO) and the Chicago Workshop on Economic Development. Increasingly, these groups have emphasized factories over shopping strips. When promising small manufacturers outgrow their original locations, real estate brokers, bankers, and the plant managers themselves have usually been inclined to look first to the suburbs for a larger site. But now the neighborhood development groups can frequently steer the manufacturers to less expensive yet desirable real estate in the city, sometimes putting together financing deals that overcome the marketplace prejudices against older neighborhoods.
Increasingly, activist neighborhood groups and traditional social service agencies have also turned their attention to manufacturing. Some are now joining the industrial groups to fight the rezoning of manufacturing sites for commercial and residential development. This problem throughout the north and northwest sides of the city has focused lately on the Clybourn Avenue and Goose Island areas.
When he became mayor, Harold Washington proclaimed as his goal the “balanced development” of manufacturing and commerce both downtown and in the neighborhoods. The Department of Economic Development stepped up efforts to retain and encourage manufacturers. Strategic studies of the steel and apparel industries by city, community, labor, and business participants brought the remnants of those industries into closer contact with each other, laid the groundwork for a Chicago “industrial policy,” and produced a number of ideas for preserving and strengthening those industries–although implementation had hardly started at Washington’s death and since has made little progress. A policy by city government to “buy Chicago,” which has also been encouraged among local big businesses, has boosted some small manufacturers’ sales.
Even downtown’s Commercial Club has made an about-face. When it issued its 1984 report, Make No Little Plans: Jobs for Metropolitan Chicago, manufacturing was excluded from its strategic objectives. Since then the club has created the Chicagoland Enterprise Center, which specializes in technical assistance to promising small manufacturers. “Chicago came together in the last few years,” said the center’s executive director, George Kalidonis. “There’s no question there’s a spirit of cooperative partnership that wasn’t there before.”
Some reasons are obvious: Chicago has gone from being typically beneath the national unemployment rate to being above it. Thousands of families and scores of neighborhoods, including their retail and service businesses and their community institutions, have been devastated by the manufacturing losses. Many city residents can’t compete for downtown office jobs and can’t travel to remote collar-county manufacturing sites.
Other reasons are less noticeable. For example, even the much-touted service sector depends on manufacturing. Indeed, the biggest job growth locally is in business services (such as maintenance and computers), many of them tied to manufacturers who tend to do less work in-house these days. Many manufacturers are closely linked to other businesses, so their successes and failures create upward or downward spirals. For example, Northwestern University professor Ann Markusen estimated that the steel-based complex of producers, fabricators, parts suppliers, and machinery makers provides half the manufacturing jobs in the city and–despite the sector’s decline–12 percent of all jobs in the city. But steel-based manufacturers are especially important because their products are shipped outside the city and earn income to pay for our “imports” from other regions or countries. Thus, they stimulate creation of a large number of other jobs here, a total of 30 percent of the work force, according to Markusen.
The current economic recovery has been relatively feeble in Illinois, which, in absolute numbers, suffered more job losses than any state in the past decade; but in the past four years manufacturing has stabilized and even gained slightly in Chicago as well as in the metropolitan region. The weakened dollar has helped, and a solution to the third world debt crisis could bolster sales from exporters such as General Motors’ depressed electromotive-engine factories. A revival of the farm economy, barely under way before the drought brought new setbacks, and more domestic auto production would obviously give new life to local manufacturing. Likewise, a huge shift of federal spending away from the military could help local manufacturers–just as the 80s military buildup is a major cause of the boom in the electronics, aircraft, and related high-tech industries of California and the northeast.
But ultimately, U.S.–and Chicago–manufacturing must be internally strengthened: better management, better design, more advanced technologies, and more skilled laborers with a greater voice in the workplace and a stake in their work. If MIT economists Michael Piore and Charles Sabel are right in their analysis in The Second Industrial Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity, Chicago could be well suited to take advantage of the new, more fluid market. Piore and Sabel argue that the era of mass production, especially in the advanced countries, is likely to give way to a revival of craft production that’s tied to programmable, flexible new machinery. Firms that are so constructed will be better able to adapt to the rapid fluctuations likely in the future world economy than huge corporations, they argue (although large Japanese firms have managed to remain innovative and flexible). Manufacturers must produce for specialized tastes and market niches, they say.
But the small firms need to cooperate in some way that encourages innovation without impeding competition. “Competition of the wrong kind undermines the necessary coordination,” write Piore and Sabel; “misdirected coordination undermines competition.”
A traditional example of small, coordinated producers is the regional conglomeration, or specialized industrial district–the weavers of Lyons, France; the cutlery makers of Solingen, Germany; the small steel makers of Brescia, Italy; the garment makers of New York City. Typically these districts limit competition over wages and working conditions, exercise it in the realms of products and technologies, and provide the kind of employment security that reconciles workers to an innovative, flexible workplace.
Sabel contrasted loom makers in Massachusetts with those in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, the first a victim of change and set policies, the second still thriving. The U.S. loom manufacturers tried to standardize their products, ignored their customers’ interest in new techniques, and relied heavily on mass production and unskilled workers, letting the old training systems decay. By contrast, the Baden-Wurttemberg industry emerged, with government encouragement and financial support, as an association of small, specialized, innovative companies supported by research institutes, local cooperative banks, and worker training services. It continues to flourish in a highly competitive world market despite paying high wages.
Already there are signs that Chicago could move in the direction of such industrial districts. But there are also immense obstacles. And if the right moves are not made quickly they could be made too late, as a critical mass of firms and skilled workers is lost in particular industries.
Consider the case of the Ready Metal Manufacturing Company on the southwest side. Founded after World War II by two brothers–one good with money, the other a mechanical whiz–the firm specialized in producing top-of-the-line metal display shelving for firms like Sears. Then a chance encounter with McDonald’s president Ray Kroc led to the design and production of the drive-in windows used by nearly all fast-food outlets. By hooking up early with Hewlett-Packard, Ready Metal became a major producer of computer shells. This experience pushed the company to achieve closer tolerances, fewer defects, and short, tight production runs keyed to reducing inventories to a minimum. Ready Metal relied heavily on a skilled and decently paid work force. For example, managers wanted to automate a welding operation. They could have picked equipment programmed entirely by a front-office engineer, then set in motion by a semiskilled operator. Instead they chose a welder that could be programmed by the traditional skilled welder on the shop floor to duplicate his motions.
Ready Metal, which employs 175 persons, more than half in production, at its southwest-side plant, joined with a number of other suppliers to form Friends of Sears (later Family of Sources), a consortium formalized in 1985. Like other vendors, Ready Metal had been hurt when Sears suddenly cut back a big remodeling program. The vendors started “back scratching,” helping each other find new markets, and have since generated $12 million in sales through their collaboration. “From that growth we’ve opened doors for each other,” vice president Ralph Rench said. The firms occupy complementary market niches and have even shifted jobs among themselves as production runs increased.
In 1986, Ready Metal was among an “industrial liaison group” of manufacturers that approached the Inventors’ Council for ideas for new products. Although the company had talented engineers, “what we were lacking was the blank-piece-of-paper guy” who could come up with new, proprietary products, Rench said. “If we develop . . . also-run products, then we can compete only on price, and that’s hard to do here. What we sell are expertise and talent of people in this area.” Don Moyer, director of the Inventors’ Council, which is a four-year-old not-for-profit association of 3,000 local inventors, passed along the request, and 20 product ideas came in to Rench. One new product is in production; another four will be pursued this year and more in the future.
Moyer, a bubbling, gray-bearded former philosopher and historian of science, had seen how “scientists had tuned cooperation and competition for just the right balance.” He argues, “Competition in an evolutionary sense breaks down without cooperation. If your way forward is buying another company rather than working together with another company, you just get these big agglomerations. Our [country’s] kind of competition, which is raw conquer-or-kill competition, leads to companies doing research on the inside.” That’s a way of doing business that limits the opportunities for a group such as the Inventors’ Council, which exists to promote cooperation among inventors and also between inventors and industry. A similar initiative is the technology commercialization programs at 16 Illinois universities, including 7 in the Chicago area, which are trying to link the needs of manufacturers and the talents of university researchers. These programs have focused primarily on consultative engineering.
Moyer regards as exemplary Ready Metal’s quest for new products, new markets, and new forms of cooperation with other small manufacturers. “If all we can do is supply a large company, that’s not hopeless,” he says. “But are there forms of cooperation that allow them to get into the market, to develop their own products and the capacity to market them? I’d love to believe all these small companies could join their strengths to go down that path.”
Over the past two years, Mary LaPorte, director of the Jane Addams Resource Corporation, has pulled together a group of metalworking firms in Lakeview that lost markets when manufacturing companies left Chicago. These small firms held on, but thousands of their jobs vanished through attrition in the past decade. They didn’t need loans; they needed markets. And they needed to improve their product quality, which could be accomplished by learning SPC, or statistical process control. SPC, a current buzzword, refers to the close, step-by-step monitoring of the factors of production, such as the temperatures of chemical baths.
So LaPorte arranged SPC training, and she set up a seminar on the quality requirements of major area manufacturers. She surveyed the metalworking firms for the products they made or might make, then used a Chicagoland Enterprise Center data base to see if any other local manufacturers were looking for such things. She arranged for the neighborhood metalworkers to share the larger contracts, rather than compete with each other for them.
“Our vision is to an active consortium that links tool-and-die makers and fabricators and platers to produce some final product that would benefit all of them,” LaPorte said. “One of the dreams that came up at one of our meetings is that [cooperating firms] would come up with ideas for products, then form a marketing organization and buy shares in it. With this idea of smaller firms looking together at strategic issues, getting their heads out of the sand and finding niches in the market, there is hope.”
Old attitudes die hard, though. “One of our challenges has been to get the guys to sit down together and get over the fears of competition,” LaPorte said. “There’s the fear the competitor will learn something or steal customers. And there’s the day-to-day pressures of just keeping the doors open. But one owner told me ‘We’re in this together. If I offer a job to you, someday you’d offer a job to me.'”
When many metal fabricators are scrambling to find new markets and many workers are desperately seeking jobs, it is odd and troubling to discover that some jobs go begging for lack of skilled workers. Ric Gudell, like Moyer a philosopher of science turned manufacturing enthusiast, saw long lines of people outside the Chicago Commons settlement house where he worked, then found that nearby screw machine shops couldn’t find skilled employees. So Gudell got a small group of the more than 200 independent screw machine job shops in the Chicago area to donate raw materials and equipment, and he began training operators on the automated machines that cut the various kinds of small threaded parts. Most graduates, nearly all of whom are taken from welfare rolls and have few previous work skills, quickly find jobs in an industry that pays an average of $13 an hour. Working with other employers, Gudell has also set up training for injection-molding-machine technicians for the plastics industry, press operators, packing line mechanics, and industrial inspectors, and he’s been training managers of plating firms.
The public schools have virtually dropped skilled training, leaving students a choice of college or a job at McDonald’s. And American culture has degraded the value of working with one’s hands or even knowing about tools. Many industries still cite Chicago’s supply of skilled craftsmen as a reason to stay in the city, but most workers in this pool are aging, and the work force now being produced is ill-educated. There have been celebrated and sometimes counterproductive fights over affirmative-action access to the “sexy” construction trades–one example is the Washburne Trade School debate, which saw many of the skilled trades abandon Washburne for the suburbs. But the Board of Education does nothing to prepare students for many other available trades. Some suburban community colleges are offering training, but Chicago’s community colleges have done little where the need is greatest.
For example, printing is the largest manufacturing sector in the city outside of steel, and it’s one that has been growing, despite the closing of some big plants such as W.F. Hall. Economic consultant Helene Fine found last year that the primary need of the city’s printers “seemed to be for a skilled labor base. The family base of small printing industry has broken down, and there’s no automatic way to attract new young people. Also, there’s a mismatch: some of the people who come in see it as easy or dead-end work. What they’re lacking is the right set of attitudes about what it means to be a printer.”
So printing companies are now developing a field experience program in the already existing Graphic Arts Club project, which is run by skilled printers through the Boys and Girls Clubs. The program will primarily be for black and Hispanic children. Kids not born to a printing family will have a chance to discover the excitement, the shop culture, and the sense of honor of the trade that others might learn at Daddy’s side.
This has led to talk of other forms of printing industry cooperation: exchanging workers among different firms as they progress and develop skills, setting up a production shop for training, collectively owning and leasing certain equipment, obtaining a building where many printing trades could all locate. Already, printers have a better-established community and culture than most manufacturing industries; they regularly quote and contract for whole projects, then subcontract parts–for example, embossing, binding, and mailing–to others.
A few metal fabricators are beginning to try making similar joint bids on large jobs. “These guys are all Lone Rangers in mentality,” Ric Gudell said. “The next leap has to be development of functional and trade associations where there is some community interest. I need to create a ground where old farts and new farts meet. Somebody needs to create industrywide cooperation.
“For example,” he continued, “I want to create a gauge library of inspection equipment [a collection of expensive specialized measuring tools]. Nobody’s quoting on jobs that require special threads, because the gauge is so expensive for just a short run. I put the idea of a gauge library out to a number of guys, and they said ‘Sure, go ahead.’ We could do the same thing for a tooling library.”
Necessity is often the mother of cooperation. Nearly 200 electroplaters employing 5,000 people in Cook County, most of them in the city, face increasingly tough environmental regulations that threaten the existence of many firms. For the past several years, the environmentally oriented Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) worked successfully to reduce both the amount of pollution and the energy costs in this industry. (And also in the food processing industry; despite the demise of the stockyards, food processing is still a major employer in Chicago.) CNT is now organizing platers to develop a centralized waste-processing facility to handle the inevitable sludge left over from even the most advanced operations. Platers in Minneapolis have already taken the leap.
“Economists aren’t famous for thinking ecologically,” says CNT director Scott Bernstein. “But you have to treat economic development ecologically.” The marketplace tends to create “negative externalities” (typically, businesses polluted the environment because the cost didn’t show up on their individual books); inversely, it tends not to appreciate or create “positive externalities.” Training and innovation that may make sense for a community or industry often do not appear cost-effective for an individual owner.
“From the cooperative nature of farmers traditionally and the Agricultural Extension Service to farmers, I saw how entities could join together for specific purposes,” said former farm girl June Lavelle. Indeed, America’s successful family farm industry–despite inconsistent federal policy–is a testament to the potential in cooperatives of small producers. Her incubator is a classic case of cooperative success, where fragile beginning businesses help each other. “This sense of community is critical in economic development,” Lavelle argues. “There is no better way to reduce fear or risk than community and proximity.”
Although municipal governments play a large role in maintaining industrial districts in some European countries, business people here fear and loathe government, and government hasn’t developed the expertise and sensitivity to intervene effectively. That is one reason why nonprofit groups have emerged as such key actors. They are willing to take risks profit-oriented investors won’t, and they are willing to buck existing market trends to arrest downward spirals. But they also try to learn the viewpoint of both owners and workers.
Workers and their unions can play crucial roles in developing an industry culture of cooperation. For example, construction unions, despite their dismal if slowly improving history on affirmative action, have been major trainers of skilled labor. The Midwest Center for Labor Research (MCLR) has tried to work with unions to help them detect early signals of potential plant closings, combat mismanagement that may threaten jobs, and encourage alternatives to manufacturing job loss.
Recently, MCLR and the city helped a dozen employees of a small south-side printing firm, Bankers Print, buy the business from its ill and aged owner. Although the idea of worker ownership is controversial among labor unions, it can be seen as an attractive answer to a big question among small, family-owned manufacturers: who will succeed the founder/owner, especially when his children decide to become lawyers or commodities traders rather than run Dad’s little factory? MCLR found that 17 percent of the manufacturers remaining on Chicago’s west side faced some imminent succession crisis. The Tooling & Manufacturing Association of Park Ridge reports that the primary reason for the loss of 30 to 40 companies annually in the Chicago area is the lack of a succession plan. The skilled workers who know the business may be the best potential owners of a viable firm, if financing is available.
Still, one of the big obstacles to Chicago’s ever adopting the cooperative small manufacturing model is the American business owner’s deeply ingrained hostility to unions. Even Ready Metal, which claims to desire close relations with its skilled workers, located a new assembly plant in downstate Illinois to avoid union representation, then took measures that contributed to the decertification of its union in Chicago. In recent years, many manufacturers have seen concessions and union-busting as the road to competitiveness.
But Monroe Roth, a veteran manager now working as a consultant with the Chicagoland Enterprise Center, says that is “absolutely not the right approach. When I talk to business executives I say ‘You’re all violently antiunion, but I’d rather run a union plant. When you’ve got a contract, it’s settled for three years. Keeping a union out is debilitating in any case.’ This antiunion feeling and mishandling of unions is a great mistake. It’s a very convenient thing to blame inadequate management on unions.” However, it is also true that unions must find ways of defending workers’ interests that take into account the contemporary need for plant flexibility and innovation.
The development of new forms of cooperation among small manufacturers–and with workers and surrounding communities–is no panacea. Beyond the need for new national policies that favor manufacturing, the city and state must do more to drastically improve basic schooling and technical training and improve fundamental city services and neighborhood infrastructures. The best “business climate,” more and more studies point out, is not created by cutting wages and taxes but by strengthening the social underpinnings of business.
“Thriving economies of the world are based on cities where businesses relate to each other,” argues Jack Sheehan, an Illinois Bell executive who founded Friends of Small Business. “We have that in Chicago, and we need to encourage and abet that synergistic relationship. There are all kinds of important global things industry needs to understand today. They need friends, associates, and cooperative relationships with other firms in the same industries, to adapt to changes in the economy, adopting changes from other firms. [Many needs] can better be answered by a consortium of companies rather than by individual companies.”
But the exciting new thinking about cooperation is coming late, and large obstacles may slow its development. Businesses could join together to market products or buy new technology cooperatively, but the typical small-business person is shortsighted, suspicious of any potential competitor, and self-destructively individualistic. Unfortunately, few businessmen are aware of any kind of cooperation except the kind of price-fixing conspiracies targeted by antitrust laws. And they generally see their workers, the government, and any advocates of community interests as their intrinsic foes.
Small manufacturer cooperation “is going to require changes in fundamental ways we think about things,” said George Kalidonis of the Chicagoland Enterprise Center. “It’s going to take a different kind of entrepreneur. The typical entrepreneur is a bit of a John Wayne loner, and you’re asking them to subordinate that to a greater good–or municipal government. We need structural changes as well. How do we get to new structures without a gun pointed at our head? Because with a gun, a lot of innocent people get hurt. How can we do it in a timely manner?”
June Lavelle thinks small manufacturers in the U.S. can compete with new tools and technologies and a shift in business strategy, but these changes will require, as Europe has found, a larger public role. “Over there,” she said, “they’ve done it through the public sector, but we’ve just said ‘Let the market do it.'” Not willing to count on the market alone, more and more Chicago social entrepreneurs like Lavelle are creating institutions that could literally change the way we do business.
But many of the emotional trappings picked up along our nation’s road to riches are obstacles to change, in Chicago or nationally. The ethic of cooperation has been forgotten, the creative role of government spurned, the social rationale for any economy–the greater well-being of all its members–kept only feebly alive in the body politic by occasional cries for “fairness.” The successful European models grew up over many years. In the fast-changing, highly integrated world economy of today, we do not have the luxury of so much time. And despite the grass-roots efforts to make changes now under way, we do not yet have leaders who can speed the birth of a new alternative to the corporate, uncooperative model of manufacturing.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.