There are economic behaviors on the local level that reflect badly on our future on the global stage.
There are two obvious assumptions that support this “Front Porch.” One is a derivative of the oft-used phrase, “think globally, act locally.” It means, among other things, that what occurs locally counts in a global context; the local is connected either directly or indirectly to the increasingly complex global network. Secondly, it is the global economy on which we must keep our eyes; it is the prize!
Several leading economists point out that the strengths of the United States on the global economic stage have all to do with our entrepreneurial spirit, production power, and sophisticated attention to the customer. To be sure, the future the economic picture is bigger than this, but the notion that the future is global and what is done locally is ultimately connected to that arena is clear. Further our performance as a country in this new world will depend on how well we exercise our entrepreneurship and cultivate our productivity and customer sensitivity. The stakes are high. Failure will result in a significantly reduced standard of living for our grandchildren.
A couple of very local examples do not make a case. However, they are illustrative of the kinds of situations that cause concern for the future. They are drawn from personal experiences this year. The degree to which we can multiply them across the region may suggest we have a problem.
We chose to have a new oil furnace installed to replace an electric system we had inherited. With the price of oil skyrocketing, we thought we should join you all in experiencing the pain! We did what we thought anybody would do in locating a reliable local, vendor. We asked around. We settled on a large company with a good reputation for high quality work, good productivity and customer service. We contacted them in early July. Two weeks later two men arrived to survey the scene prior to submitting an estimate. They promised to be back to us in a week. So far, so good.
We heard nothing from them. We called them to find that the men were on vacation, but that they would be in contact the beginning of the next week. They did not call. I called again, and the representative indicated that he had lost my telephone number; mind you it is in the book and he had my name and address. Still nothing. Two weeks later I called his supervisor, and she apologized profusely. Finally, we received the estimate two days later. So much for customer service!
As you might imagine we had sought out other vendors. One young man seemed knowledgeable and efficient, the kind of person you would not mind having around your house for 10 days or so. We were so angry with the “large company with the good reputation” we had decided we were not going to give them the contract as a matter of principle, regardless of their reputation.
The contractor we chose turned out to be a similar disappointment. I will not bore you with the frustrating details. Suffice it to say that we engaged this young entrepreneur in late August/early September. We got full heat for the first time the week after Thanksgiving. Again, so much for productivity and customer service!
The second story has to do with a well-known health insurance company. One of us has been on a medication – an important one – since 1999. Suddenly, the company refused to authorize coverage. It is an expensive drug and we were forced to buy it in quantities of six on two occasions as we battled the company for continued authorization. Happily we could afford it, but we understood the powerlessness of the patient in these situations! Over three weeks there were multiple communications among physician, patient and provider. Finally, they agreed to authorize coverage. To repeat: so much for productivity and customer service.
Good thing we were able to afford the drug. The consequences of going without could have been very serious, but the company was largely unresponsive to our efforts to beg for it. We could not help but wonder how many people just give up and end up in the emergency room with a serious avoidable medical condition! Such is often the fate of the poor and the elderly. Shouldn’t happen in the wealthiest nation in the world!
I am not whining. The point is not about our travails. We are fine. The point is these are economic behaviors on the local level that reflect badly on our future on the global stage. Poor entrepreneurship, productivity and customer service will not serve us well on the global stage. Let’s hope these are isolated instances that do not portend poorly for our grandchildren.
Jim Carignan is a retired educator who lives in Harpswell. His e-mail address is [email protected]