Last call: An American Renewal?

Last Call

marc_freyIf one would have to summarize what characterizes Americans, four words suffice: We like to win!

So it should come as no surprise that we are slowly but surely on the rebound. After shaking the memories of the 9/11 attacks, followed by the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the near meltdown of our financial system and one of the longest recessions on record, there are signs of optimism everywhere.

Trend spotting is not a science but rather a deduction based on unrelated events that point in the same direction. A few years back I predicted in this column that the United States had not seen the best of what is yet to come. I based that on a few major fundamentals, including that we are uniquely adept at combining science, capital and entrepreneurial drive into forward momentum. We are not afraid to try out new things, fail, and then try again.

How cool was it to see a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (assembled in North Charleston) fly low over the 18th hole during the RBC Heritage? Well beyond soliciting a few “Oohs” and “Aahs,” that plane served as a clear reminder that manufacturing in the USA is back.

For another example, we don’t need to look farther than Greenville, which has been chosen by the French tire manufacturer Michelin as its choice location to build a brand new $950 million global plant, creating 800 new jobs. In a recent Boston Consulting survey, 37 percent of 106 major manufacturers indicated that they are planning or actively considering bringing manufacturing back from China. But it is not just major corporations that are rethinking their strategies and reevaluating if the complications of outsourcing off-shore might outweigh the benefits in reduced overhead.

Much smaller companies are doing the same, and any one or a combination of the following factors are part of their decision-making process: lower energy costs due the U.S. natural gas surplus, close collaboration with nearby universities; political stability; protection of intellectual property; and the added amount of direct control afforded by staying close to home.

It’s not just manufacturing that is on the upswing: Consumers are putting more faith in American brands as well. My neighbor’s recent switch from a Lexus SUV to a cutting-edge looking Cadillac reminded me that driving American is once again cool. In a showdown between a Ford Mustang and BMW Coupe, Ford proved that it can build cars that can hold their own against European manufacturers — something that not that long ago would not even have been a consideration among sports car enthusiasts.

Going green is another factor that will create economic benefits. I’m not talking about shoppers like myself that use their own bags to carry groceries home, but the retooling of our infrastructure. As a nearby example, walk into the new Harris Teeter at Park Plaza and take your eyes off the veggies and pay attention to the lights that are shining on them; you will notice that it is a state-of-the-art low-energy LED system. While more expensive to install, it creates less heat and is far more durable than conventional lighting.

Did you know that the University of South Carolina has launched a billion-dollar fundraising campaign and is already halfway there; or that Bluffton has joined the Clemson Technology incubator test program called “Building the technology village”? If this is too mundane for you, take a look at “Planetary Resources Inc.” a venture that aims to harvestresources from other planets to “help ensure humanity’s prosperity.”

All these events by themselves might not speak loud, but if you are looking at them combined and take into consideration that they are mere examples of the bigger picture, I venture to say that we are in an American renewal phase comparable to the European Renaissance a few centuries ago that was sparked by the invention of print and the ensuing dissemination of ideas.

Now if we just could stay away from embarking into futile wars, keep Wall Street at bay and the government out of our pockets, we could make some real headway!