I’m a transplant. I was actually born in South Africa directly preceding a quick jump to Toronto when I was a wee tike. That said, I am the first in my family to grow up in North America. I was exposed by my parents, if not directly at times, to the stark contrast between here and there. My last trip back to Johannesburg was before the end of Apartheid, an adventure that made an indelible mark on my sense of injustice, the imprint of my grandmother’s hand on my shoulder as she held me back from stepping on the wrong bus. “That’s not our bus”, she whispered. “That’s their bus.” Terrible.
On my drive home yesterday, a soothing voice from NPR drifted out of my car stereo cooing about manufacturing in China and its effect on our economy. As NPR tends to be, the piece was reasonably objective, not really complaining about our lack of manufacturing jobs as much as describing, from a macroeconomic perspective, the implications of the global economy to our job market.
Sometimes I listen to these things intently, studying every inflection as it emanates from the speakers. And sometimes I simply let it waft over me, the salient bits of data creating concentric ripples of thought that take me on the kind of mental journey that makes rush hour traffic in Manhattan nearly bearable.
It was this latter style of listening that found me introspective. I was overcome – in all fairness I hope – with a bit of national pride. Rain computers are designed in the US. They are built in the US. And, perhaps most starkly contrasted to others in our field, they are supported here in the good ‘ol US of A.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
I often tell those considering a new computer that every manufacturer in the world, from Apple to Dell to Acer, is purchasing technology from the same pool. We all get a visit from the technology fairy, whether daily, weekly or monthly, who reports that their company has just created something marvelous that will replace the previously marvelous thing and it will all be… well, marvelous.
I further tell people that, as this homogeneous purchasing style is the norm, in order to differentiate Apples from oranges, one must look at the details. If everyone is offering similar processors, memory and hard drives, what are they able to offer as a compelling reason for picking one against the next? In the case of Rain, we concentrate on tools for the creative community, working with our tech partners to bring their products into the creative space. We ask ourselves what type of processors, memory and hard drives (not to mention actual support for creative people) will work best in the service of someone making music, video and graphics.
But as important as that is, it’s not enough. Rain is also collectively of the mindset that we are responsible to take care of our own. And while “our own” does truly mean creative minds the world over, there is an added layer of “our own” physically connected to this American technology company. So we offer discounts to our military, cops, firefighters and other civil employees; we work closely with educators to help the next generation of Americans get creative; and we do our best to produce and keep jobs in New Jersey, in New York and in America.
Made in China is not bad.
Let’s be clear: Rain doesn’t manufacture hard drives. We purchase them from technology partners whose job it is to produce them as well and as inexpensively as possible. That often means doing it in another country. And to me that’s ok. If this is truly to be a global economy, and if Robert Reich is correct in his hypothesis that it’s time for us to borrow more to spend on our aging infrastructure, then we’re going to have to cuddle up to someone with deep pockets. And that list is perilously short right now. So if manufacturing certain things in the Far East means producing money that could potentially come back to our shores, it makes a certain amount of sense to me.
But as always, the devil is in the details. We, those few who guide technology companies through the murky waters of commerce, must never find ourselves satisfied to simply conduct our business a certain way because it was done that way last time. Every situation is different. Any broker will tell you to have a well diversified portfolio. Any liberal will tell you to spread the wealth. And as my dad always tells me: everything in moderation.
You do what you must.
I don’t begrudge any technology executive the right to follow his or her heart in the service of the customers, employees and stockholders for which he or she is responsible. And if true merit can be preferred upon a carefully considered decision to export manufacturing or support then who am I to look down my nose at them? I may be forced to those crossroads myself some day. And I’ll have to make an impossible decision. We all do it.
But for now, I’m downright proud, cheesy though it may be, to say that Rain employs as many Americans as it possibly can. Like carbon offsets, we do our best to make sure ample revenue stays at home just as some of it ends up on foreign shores.
And I also look forward to the day when “home” for Rain means not just our native US soil, but also the lands of like minded, responsible nations who treat their citizens with respect, reinvest their capital for the good of the world, and participate fairly in a global tide that will raise all boats.
Now that’s a global economy.