Before Krishna P. Singh, chief executive of Holtec International, decided to expand in Camden, he flirted, seriously with South Carolina. Chief among its attractions was its workforce, Singh told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
"In the beginning, we thought we would build a plant in South Carolina," Singh said. "Why, because, companies like Boeing have paved the way for us. They have been running significant training programs to teach the workforce advanced manufacturing."
And, "the labor rates are lower compared to New Jersey, about 60 percent. So we have 40 percent savings in labor, which is an inducement," Singh said.
In July, Singh announced a plant to move the headquarters of his nuclear reactor component manufacturing company from Marlton to Camden and to build a manufacturing plant there. He hopes to employ thousands, but to get incentive money from the state he needs to add 400 jobs. (You can click here to read a Philadelphia Inquirer story about the project.) He said he expects to employ several thousand at the site.
Now the issue will be whether Holtec can find the highly skilled manufacturing labor it needs. "It takes years of training," he said.
The irony, of course, is that Camden once had a wealth of manufacturing along with the workforce to go with it.
"In 20 years, you can deindustrialize the society," he said. "Any industrial base, unless it is replenished, with a 20-year break, you can deindustrialize. It takes about 25 to 30 years to industrialize. It takes the same amount of time to deindustrialize, because a generation is 25 years."
I asked him if recessions speed up the process.
"An economic setback in any society, of course, causes loss of skills," he said. "That is bleeding, not death. Death is when the whole industry leaves and shuts down and you forget how you did things. I have seen it in my own life time. When I was a 20-year-old , Americans could do certain things in a typical shop, no problem. Today that skill is hard to come by. For example, you take a material like titanium and you try to weld it. That takes a high level of skill. Back in 1970, you could walk in a shop and there were several people who could do that work for you. Today, they can't weld that too well."