This week has dripped with irony.
On Wednesday I traveled to a press event at Combilift, a forklift and material handling equipment manufacturer several hours northwest of Dublin, in the rolling green hills of County Monaghan. The company exports most of its vehicles and keeps much of its supply base local, a practice that has won the company numerous awards from Irish commerce organizations. The forklift-maker has achieved something local business groups anywhere would applaud. It manufactures locally, sells globally.
Then, well, there’s this volcano, which has brought a portion of global business to its knees.
The halt in air traffic hasn’t stopped Combilift’s products from being shipped across the ocean in container ships, but it has left me and thousands more sitting and waiting. And waiting. And waiting. It’s a surreal experience, perhaps one that’s good for a writer like me once in a while. Once the ash finally blows over, I’ll certainly have a story to tell.
Could this trigger a new way of thinking about global business? I’ve had plenty of time to think about this. Stranded passengers are great for lively debate, much of which has been about the following ideas. Know that these came out of a lengthy conversation at a local pub, so please take them with a grain of salt (or barley, if you like).
1. If you want something far away shipped quickly, there’s more than additional cost to consider; there’s additional risk, at least for the next few months, when volcanic activity is expected to continue off and on. Perhaps this will give another boost to the argument for a local supply chain? Will more OEMs move their supply base stateside, at least those who need products yesterday?
2. The Irish know how to brew beer.
3. People who don’t actually make physical products (e.g., me) ultimately may be more affected by globalization over the long run. We can work anywhere. My work’s in my laptop and cell phone, and as long as those are with me, I’m good to go. The only thing holding me back is battery life. Tomorrow, I’m headed to Belfast for a flight that I hope will depart Wednesday. During transit I may just have to power down the laptop. But if batteries were better, I could keep working en route--be it on a bus, plane, train, hovercraft--you name it.
4. The Irish know how to brew beer.
5. Desperate business owners and safety professionals don’t mix. The thought of flying in volcanic ash isn’t too appealing to me. Neither is operating manufacturing equipment without proper safeguarding. In both circumstances, the chance of injury or death might be slight, but the risk still may be high enough to warrant precaution.
6. Did I mention that the Irish know how to brew beer?