“Where do you get ideas to write about?” is a question we in the column-writing dodge often hear.
One must resist the temptation to respond with a flippant remark like “we buy them off the Internet” out of concern that, given some of the transgressions in this industry, people will conclude we are doing exactly that.
No, for better or worse, the ideas and what we do with or to them are our own. And in scanning the topics that occupied this space (or the vertical one on the left side of the page), observations may be drawn about where those topics come from.
• Sometimes news happens. If you can’t find something to write about in what Boeing, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser or Amazon, to name a few that have graced this column in 2012, are up to, you’re not trying very hard. Indeed each is likely to make return appearances in 2013, because each is big, regionally significant and in the midst of major internal and external issues and trends that will shape the company, its employees and the local economy for years to come.
• Sometimes columns are the result of passing remarks that happen to land precisely on issues readers are interested in. Such was the case with a multi-column discussion of high-school shop classes, triggered by a speech your columnist covered and which in turn prompted considerable reader reaction.
It wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, although there was plenty of that. The future of industrial-arts instruction figures prominently in debates over where we’re going to find trained workers for good-paying jobs that are opening up in manufacturing, what we can do with all those kids who aren’t college-bound and might not even make it through high school, whether training for such careers should take place at the high school or post-secondary level, the role of community colleges in the overall educational system – to mention a few. Those aren’t questions that are going away or will be resolved tomorrow. Expect to read and hear a lot more about them in 2013 – and remember where you heard it first.
• Sometimes it’s obvious that Something Significant is happening and we need to understand What It Means. Such was the case with the columns devoted to the topic of energy sources and markets.
Energy is always an important business and economics topic – do we have enough, where are we getting it from, how much does it cost? But raucous issues such as coal export terminals are mere sideshows and footnotes to the potentially revolutionary developments we’re in the midst of now – the surge in supply of North American natural gas and crude oil. It’s difficult to predict how a revolution will play out when you’re in the middle of one, but we’re going to try, because the implications and effects already are widespread and deep, and could be long-lasting.
• Sometimes ideas come about because they’re personal interests or peeves of the person at the keyboard. Sometimes these fascinations are of no great consequence – such as ruminations on the demise of the paper map – but sometimes they’re of great import and become running themes because they matter. An example of the latter would be this columnist’s continued concern over, and railing about, the lack of coordination among government entities at all levels over the tax and pubic-debt burdens they’re piling up on us.
An even better example is that perennial favorite, alternately summed up as “whither Tacoma?” or “withering Tacoma” or “whether Tacoma” or “whatever, Tacoma.” We’ve tossed around lots of ideas about what Tacoma can or should do to better its economic lot in life.
You can expect us to keep at it, unless a magic solution appears to make the need for further consideration of the question unnecessary.
• Most of all, though, ideas, inspiration, added perspective and insights come from you the readers. Thanks for your comments and suggestions, and keep them coming. The ideas to write about are plentiful, but the bucket of topics is never so full that it can’t use thoughts from readers on what they’re noticing and pondering about.Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgyahoo.com.