L ast week I wrote about my skeptism when politicians come calling. This week, skeptism was replaced with disbelief when Mike Singh from Ahmedabad, India called requesting an in-person meeting, here in the financial center of Elizabethtown. Mr. Singh, with a distinct Indian accent, informed me he would be in town near the end of the month and would like show me how I can save between 50 to 60 percent of our production costs by moving the production process and perhaps other tasks "offshore."
Mr. Singh touts that comprehensive outsourcing drawn from their extensive global resources, with deep subject matter expertise and proven management experience, will create an efficiency of excellence for Denton Publications.
My initial rebuff doesn't deter Mike, as he points to the "Cloud" and goes more in depth with measurable metrics and engaged management. I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with Mike as he piqued my interest on the specifics of what he was really offering.
In a nutshell, our local staff would gather the news and write articles, advertisements and all of the normal processes we go through each week to build content for the papers. Then at the end of the day, electronically, we send everything to India. When we come in the next morning, like magic, the creative work will be completely edited, designed, proofed, and ready to go into the paper. Mike's offshore team would design the final newspaper product before sending it back to us to print and distribute locally.
Now, I assume Mike doesn't know that we've been struggling to update some of our equipment and software recently. For those of you who don't operate a computer network, you just can't replace a few computers, because the newer computers don't work well with the older software, and once you replace one generation of software, you have replace the software for everyone on the network, which then goes back to replacing their computer, which in turn triggers other software and network components to be incompatible with the new software forcing you to upgrade those programs. Needless to say, you can go from spending a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars before you're done, and once you start, there is no going back. So I have to wonder if, after several frustrating weeks of green screens, font issues and computers not talking to each other, there are little "Spybots" buried deep in the software that send out calling cards to companies like Mike's that basically say, "We've softened them up, and they are ready for your call!"
First, let me state clearly that I have nothing against the folks from India trying to improve their standard of living by seeking work from the U.S. But my primary concerns are for my employees, my region and my country in that order. Mr. Singh's proposal, while worth investigating, would put approximately 10 of our good North Country staff members out of a job, and that is a major impact on my priorities noted above. On the surface, we would be saving not only their salaries but the costs of insurances, computers, software and all the other intangible aspects that go with employees such as transportation issues, personality conflicts, illnesses, snow days, lack of production, training, scheduling and many more we don't have the space to list here.
The concept, while interesting, goes completely against my core beliefs. There is so much more to owning and operating a small business than just producing profits alone. The ultimate American dream is to operate a successful small business, produce a valued product, and create local jobs while meeting the needs of your customers.
While this world may be getting smaller and the technology is readily available, I just can't imagine giving in to this global approach. Our company, like many, cherishes its role of being an asset to the community. Our founder, William Denton, was proud to say, as we do today, "We are more than a newspaper, we are a community service." I fear, through technology and competition, that greed will continue to overwhelmed our good judgment.
There was a time when buying American meant something special. The pride behind American ingenuity and the American worker has been challenged, in many ways by that same American worker who values discount pricing when spending their money but expects wages and benefits to be on the increase when privately owned small businesses are struggling just to keep the lights on and Fortune 500 companies may already be employing an offshore strategy. We can't have it both ways, but if lower costs are what consumers want, then American businesses have little choice but to meet that demand by trimming expenses.
Any short-term gain Denton Publications could make by pursuing an offshore production opportunity would be a short-lived gain. Unfortunately, the reality of this global economy is that competition will force us to be competitive with India, China, Korea and others, what were once thought of as, Third-World economies. Faced with this choice on our small local level, one has to wonder about the future of our small communities and how we'll compete on the world stage with countries far more ambitious and motivated. I, for one, never thought our ultra-local firm would face this choice.
With the average wage in India being approximately $15 a day, I have been forced to ask myself: Am I foolish to not consider this opportunity? Do I risk all of our jobs should our corporate competitors move in this direction? Is this a choice of greed, competition or just good business sense?
I'm unsure how to categorize it, but right now I know there is no way I'll consider sending work overseas At the same time, I learned long ago to never say never. I just hope this never ... never arrives.
Dan Alexander is publisher and owner of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.