Two hundred years of entrepreneurship

So here I am back in the early 19th century, at the beginning of the industrial revolution in America.

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So here I am back in the early 19th century, at the beginning of the industrial revolution in America. Actually, I am here quite often because I come frequently to this renowned outdoor museum, Old Sturbridge Village, when I entertain guests, which is the purpose of my visit today.

America gained its independence just a few years ago and what is an agriculturally oriented country is gradually shifting to an economy where people are being paid to perform services for others, no longer bartering but exchange in cash.

Just across the way is a water-powered carding mill where machines, built from stolen English plans (talk about entrepreneurs), are busy removing unwanted materials from wool. This display is one of the first examples of industry-for-hire appearing in this bucolic New England country town. In the photo I’m holding the cards used manually while above is the semi-automated carding machine. Just down the road is another, where young farm girls are paid piecework to produce corn brooms, an example of wages being paid for performance.

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Although simple examples they do suggest the beginnings of what are some of the defining characteristics of business owners in the United States, a willingness to try new things, a boundless enthusiasm for their products and services, and a gamble that a profitable enterprise can be developed. From this the county gained a reputation as a land of doers and big thinkers.

It’s ironic that I am here at the start of the industrial revolution in America just when, in the 21st century, we are putting the final touches on the new Industrial Laser Solutions Job Shop Buyers Guide. For many of the companies represented in this publication you now hold are the fruit of fertile minds seeking a way to express themselves, and to make a living, by founding and sustaining a business.

Over the years, in these pages, we have written about dozens of job shops that were started to meet an unfulfilled or anticipated need in the industrial community. Most of these were founded with modest funding, a willingness to expend immense amounts of energy, and an innate feeling of success. And for the most part, national recessions aside, they are successful, because the owners invest themselves in these businesses.

In the 19th century, American businessmen had the chutzpa to look beyond the borders of their towns to the world as a potential market. Those sailing ships leaving Salem harbor were loaded with goods to be sold in Europe. It is ironic that 21st-century container ships and air freighters are carting Asian-produced goods to the shores of America, produced by entrepreneurs seeking markets beyond their villages.

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Last year in our annual survey of job shops offering laser processing services we learned that competition, especially offshore competition, was the primary concern of a majority of those responding. This year we are hearing a slightly different story. It seems that American shops have reacted to the offshore threat by running leaner and, more importantly, offering a wider range of services. Laser cutting shops may now offer punching, bending, welding, and painting operations. Also, it helps that an increasing number of reports of quality problems with offshore produced parts is causing U.S. shops to recover some lost business.

As we inaugurate this new Job Shop Buyers Guide we do it with admiration for the owners who continue to “bet the farm” on their contract processing shops. They represent a conservatively estimated $200 million of new laser systems-a large on-going market for laser and assist gasses and replacement parts and spares, such as gas jet nozzles, each year. All this while turning out a projected $4 billion worth of laser processed parts.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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