Touring the GE Appliance Reliability Lab with David McCalpin, General Manager of Home Energy Management
Louisville, Kentucky - This past Thursday morning, as things were heating up in Egypt and the mid-west remained in a deep freeze, Sustainability Manager KC Poulous and I headed to General Electric’s Appliance Park in Louisville Kentucky. The purpose of our trip was to explore public/private collaborations related to community based energy and environmental sustainability initiatives.
KC’s flight was sponsored by the Galvin Initiative. My flight was covered by fees I earned for the Village last fall by teaching a local government course to Chinese government officials visiting Chicagoland.
As a result of our trip we hope to see a few Electric Vehicle charging stations installed in public parking bays in Oak Park this summer. Nearly all automakers plan on bringing electric vehicles to market over the next few years, so it is strategically important that early and potential Electric Vehicle users know that public recharging stations will be available when necessary in between home recharges. Just last week Oak Park processed our first application from an EV owner to qualify for free EV parking in Oak Park throughout 2011 and 2012.
For EV’s to succeed this time, we need to start creating the EV infrastructure now, particularly in urban areas. EV’s need to succeed because they will reduce green house gas emissions into the atmosphere, lessen our dependence on volatile and diminishing oil supplies, stimulate American research & development, and strengthen our manufacturing base.
As energy costs rise and the reality of climate change takes hold, in home energy management coupled with energy saving appliances will also become mainstream on mainstreet.
Since Oak Park now has smart electric meters in all of our homes, we are also hoping Oak Park, GE, ComEd, Galvin, and perhaps other partners can collaborate on a pilot project in Oak Park to test in-home energy management strategies. The new generation of smart appliances will be able to reduce or defer an appliances energy use during periods of peak or critical energy demand. These advancements can help lessen peak pressure on the energy grid, save customers on their energy bills, and reduce green house gas emissions.
All good things.
Touring the GE Test Kitchen, learning more about induction cooking with GE’s J. Thompson; K.C. Poulous, VOP Sustainability Manager; GE’s Dave McCalpin and myself.
As important as the sustainability movement is, the other story unfolding at GE in Louisville is just as interesting to a former Detroiter like myself. GE manufacturing will be hiring again!
The back story is GE’s massive, 1.5 square mile industrial park called Appliance Park was built in the 1950’s. The park is so big and employed so many people at its peak that it has its own traffic control signals. At one time over 25,000 people were employed in manufacturing at Appliance Park. We know the story, the confluence of globalization, increased competition, adversarial labor-management relations and other factors transformed a once busting complex into a shadow of its former self as employment at Appliance Park plummeted from a high of 25,000 to a low of 5,000. A snap shot of the recent American manufacturing economy.
In Louisville we learned GE is bringing back some appliance manufacturing lines from other countries and expects to create 2,000 new jobs at Appliance Park. Over the next year employment at Appliance Park will head back up toward 8,000 jobs. Labor-management relations have evolved and all are striving to work together. American built quality and productivity can now overcome the advantages of lowest cost production when long distance product shipping costs and quality are factored in. Of course, it will also help if Americans try to buy products built in America whenever reasonably possible.
What we may be seeing, or perhaps hoping, is that the global, lowest cost manufacturer economy (or race to the bottom as my UAW relatives might say) that has cost our country millions of manufacturing jobs may be giving way to a smarter, more rational, loosely knit, regionally based, albeit global economy. This would be a good thing. Regions would be wise to start planning for it.