Obama and Jobs Council will visit here

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President Barack Obama's Jobs Council comes calling this morning on a Findlay company whose labor-saving technology makes companies more competitive.

Seegrid's robotic forklifts get consumer goods, industrial parts and other products in and out of warehouses more quickly, boosting the productivity of companies that use them. Company spokesman David A. Noble said that while the automated forklifts allow some customers to reduce warehouse jobs, they also allow many of them to free up workers for more productive tasks.

"This is actually making us more competitive in the United States, which keeps jobs here in the United States," Mr. Noble said.

Seegrid's products demonstrate that while automation may lead to short-term job losses, in the long run it can save and create jobs by helping companies be more competitive.

"The old economic rule of thumb is that productivity is the enemy of the worker in the short term and friend of the worker in the long term," said Michael Montgomery, senior economist with IHS Global Insight, a consulting firm.

Technology-based jobs are more attractive because they pay higher wages and make U.S. companies more competitive, said Pamela J. Gordon, president of Technology Forecasters, an Alameda, Calif., firm that advises companies on manufacturing strategy.

"Robotics are always to be embraced because they increase productivity and create jobs that are more attractive," Ms. Gordon said.

The Jobs Council's meeting coincides with President Barack Obama's visit to Pittsburgh. The president will not be at the Seegrid meeting, which will be led by General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of the White House Jobs Council. Two other executives on the 27-member panel, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini and Eastman Kodak Chairman Antonio Perez, as well as U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills are scheduled to attend the meeting.

They will tour Seegrid's plant and listen to jobs-creating suggestions from about 50 regional business leaders who are expected to attend the session.

Mr. Obama plans a tour of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5 Training Center on the South Side around mid-day today.

Seegrid was founded in 2003 as a spinoff from technology created at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center, which hosted Mr. Obama during a visit in June.

Mr. Noble said the privately owned company has doubled its work force over the past year, hiring its 67th employee Monday. It expects to double it again over the next 12 to 18 months, he said. The company recently borrowed $7 million, which Mr. Noble said will be used to research and develop new products.

Seegrid's technology is mounted onto forklifts made by other companies. The operator uses a keypad to type in where the vehicle should go and the robot does the rest. "The average operator within a factory can train the robot to do what they want the robot to do," Mr. Noble said.

One of the Jobs Council's biggest challenges is to make sure workers are equipped to perform the technology-based jobs Seegrid and other companies are creating.

"The problem is only 6 percent of our student body wants to get an engineering degree. That number is 15 percent in Germany and over 20 percent in India and China," said Fariborz Ghadar, director of Penn State University's Center for Global Business Studies.

Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.


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