LAS VEGAS — Ford was the latest company to find itself in the spotlight over issues of jobs and globalization this week, as the automaker canceled plans for a Mexican factory that would have employed nearly 3,000 people.
President-elect Donald Trump is getting the blame, but Ford CEO Mark Fields, speaking today the Consumer Electronics Show, insisted that the company made the decision for its own reasons.
“In our case, obviously with the plant in Mexico, we did what was right for our business, not because the President-elect said … ” Fields said in response to a question about the issue during a panel at CES today with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Flex CEO Mike McNamara.
“But Trump had some effect on the decision,” countered moderator Alan Murray of Time Inc.
Fields said, “Well, you know, bottom line is we didn’t need the capacity anymore. We were going to build our Focus there, small cars are decreasing here, demand. So we just didn’t need it.”
That was the prelude to a larger discussion about globalization and automation among the CEOs, three high-profile figures in the worlds of automobiles, technology and manufacturing.
Fields continued, “When you look at a lot of the trends around globalization, particularly around information and the Internet, all information is now global, and you really have to step back and understand, why are people questioning globalization. I think part of it is because the benefits that were sold to voters, particularly in more affluent countries, haven’t materialized.”
He added, “For globalization to regain its mojo, so to speak, the folks in some of these affluent countries are going to need to see the benefits, and as we’ve seen over time, it ebbs and flows.”
Addressing the issue from the perspective of technology manufacturer Flex, McNamara said “globalization continues to be a powerful force … We’re going to end up building closer and closer to the end markets that we actually serve. It’s more efficient, it’s more productive. … I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
The bigger impact on jobs could come from technology and automation, and Intel’s Krzanich took on that topic in response to a subsequent question. “I have this belief that technology drives transformation — it actually creates jobs,” Krzanich said, referring to overall net employment gains and losses. “It rarely ever eliminates jobs.”
However, Fields added, “There’s going to be a lag effect here.”
He referred to the scenario of autonomous trucking displacing human truck drivers.
“They could be trained for lots of different things, but are they going to be trained as data analysts, things of that nature?” Fields said. “I agree with Brian — ultimately it creates more jobs, but as you go through that transition, there are going to be displaced, and they’re going to be vocal about it, and I think we as a society are going to deal with that, because the last thing is the society to turn against technological innovation. That would be disastrous.”