Loss or Reinvention
This past Thanksgiving was at my childhood home in Connecticut. My father lives there. He built the house over 60 years ago and he is not leaving anytime soon. He is in his 90’s and he knows every part of the house, by heart. Nothing has changed over the years. It doesn’t need to.
Things do Change
On our way to his house, we drove through New Britain, Connecticut. We passed many buildings that were for sale, with large signs on their facades. I realized that the city was a shell of its former self. I remember when New Britain was the leading manufacturer of ball bearings and hand tools. This was clearly no longer the case.
Opportunities and Losses
New Britain had a reputation as a manufacturing town. Prosperity was evident in the 1960’s and 70’s. Erosion had been gradual in the 1980’s and 90’s. Local plants closed and companies took their manufacturing operations overseas to reduce costs and remain competitive. Technology and shareholder value were major change factors, but “big box” stores also had a significant influence on pricing. Companies that embraced change and adapted their business models could survive. But how and where they did business was often very different.
A New Vision
Driving back to our house in Massachusetts, we passed the University of Connecticut Medical Center. It looked striking on a hill overlooking the valley. I noticed that it had doubled in size since its construction decades ago. Surrounding the Medical Center were modern buildings that housed research labs, medical offices and academic classrooms. Long forgotten farms had been transformed into instruments of growth in medical technology and health care services. New cars filled the parking lots and newly paved access roads indicated the opportunity for additional growth. Life looked promising for the future. The present was robust.
I thought of New Britain and the many businesses that had not adapted to relentless market change. The skills that made ball bearings years ago are very different from those in a heavily automated environment. Consumers use the same products but a global economy has opened the door to other locations, innovation and significantly lower costs. Healthcare and medical research have evolved radically from the closets of academia to robust consumer and investor and driven businesses. Breakthrough discoveries have improved the lives of millions and we have only scratched the surface. I wondered as I considered the march of innovation:
Could those older businesses in New Britain have changed in time?