Plenty of change, outrage for year

contributing writerDecember 25, 2011 

Did we have fun this year, rooting around in the accomplishments and foibles of business and economics?

Depends on your definition of fun:

 • A column from March remarking on a Government Accountability Office report documenting extensive duplication and waste in federal programs was very much on readers’ minds when it first appeared – and still is. One reader recently wrote in to ask whatever happened to it.

“I haven’t heard or read of any action being taken to resolve this type of government waste,” she said.

“With all the federal budget problems, I had thought someone would jump on this and tell us they were working to resolve it. Do you have any ideas on how to get more outrage generated and get people to take action on it? I know I’ll feel better if I write a letter but I don’t expect my lone letter will make any difference.”

It would be nice to tell you that the report has prompted congressional action. But we don’t do fiction writing here. The report appears to have gone to that shelf where all such worthy but unread reports go to gather dust. It’s a very long shelf.

 • If government waste wasn’t enough to push your outrage button, the topic of bank fees was usually sufficient to do the job. Consumer and merchant uproar forced major banks to retreat on monthly fees for debit cards, but suspicion lingers. As one reader cynically but accurately put it, “They’ll get us one way or another, and when we all go online, the post office will really be in a fix.”

 • A November column on the mismatch between the unemployed and employers with jobs to fill prompted several plaintive letters from readers recounting their difficulties in finding work despite extensive experience and training. Wrote one, “For the first time in my life, I feel shut out of the work force.”

Expect this to be an issue that persists through 2012, even if the economy suddenly and miraculously comes roaring back. The concurrent issues of whether workers have the skills employers need, whether they can acquire those skills, who pays for training, whether employers are willing to pay for skilled or trainable workers, and a few dozen more, are not easily resolved, especially in a climate of tight public and private budgets for education and training programs.

 • The suggestion that the Puyallup Fair ought to provide a showcase for the region’s commercial and industrial products and innovations, just as it does for agriculture, brought a reaction – from the fair itself.

The idea has indeed been kicked around by the fair and the business community, a spokeswoman says. There’s nothing to report yet, and such projects don’t come together overnight. But it’s encouraging to know the idea isn’t such an exercise in idle conjecture as it might first appear to be.

 • We hope you’re keeping mental notes on ads worthy of praise or derision for the next edition of Readers Rate the Ads. One in the first category is a recent TV ad for Volkswagen. Instead of the typical car showing a vehicle tearing across (or up) the landscape, VW uses scenes, shot at ground level, of the hazards of navigating grocery- store aisles in one of those kiddie cars attached to a food cart. Very eye catching.

That’s a lot of territory covered, and we have yet to mention Tacoma’s economic future, energy, retailing, Amazon and sales-tax collections and Boeing (anything go on with them this year?).

But that is one of the beauties of this beat: You may run out of column inches on this page, but you never run out of topics with which to fill them.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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