By Todd Smithee

At the end of my family vacation, I decided to attempt to hook into a king salmon in Ludington, Michigan’s harbor.  Ludington is where the Pere Marquette River empties into Lake Michigan.  Every August the salmon make their annual migration from the lake into the river.

I prepared for my morning of fishing by putting stronger line on my reel, which was attached to a grossly undersized fishing pole.  My plan was to fish in the harbor, hook a fish with my undersized pole, and chase the fish with my boat until I tired it out.  As I got ready to launch my small aluminum fishing boat, I offered to help another fisherman launch his boat (he was alone).  He said he could launch it by himself.  Then he took a look at my situation and graciously offered to take me along with him.  This was my first example of fisherman’s luck of the day, and I jumped at the opportunity.

My new friend (I’ll call him Bob) put me to work driving the boat while he set the lines.  Almost immediately we hooked into a nice salmon.  Bob surprised me again when he told me to go ahead and reel it in.  I was lucky enough to catch my first salmon in years, a nice 17-pound king.  In my second round of fisherman’s luck, Bob handed the rod to me a little while later, and again I landed another salmon.

But my final, and by far the most important, strike of fisherman’s luck for the day was the time I got to spend with Bob.  Bob is a fairly recent retiree of one of the Big-Three automakers.
Since I’m self-employed, we could not have had more diverse career backgrounds.  I learned much about the hopes and concerns of Americans employed in careers in the industrial base that is so important to our nation’s economy and defense.  It was an eye-opening experience.  One thing that was especially interesting was that Bob and I worry about exactly the same things–saving for retirement, paying the bills, and preparing our children for the real world.  The only real difference is to how we’ve attempted to get there.

Bob’s a great example of just-in-time logistics.  Bob retired just in time.  He receives his pension and excellent healthcare benefits just-in-time.  But he got me thinking about the other “Bobs” out there.  What happens if one or all of the Big-Three automakers goes bankrupt?  Who will pay for all of the other Bobs’ healthcare, pensions, and jobs?  And what about the retired Bobs?  Will they lose their pensions and healthcare?  Finally, what about our industrial base?  How can the US remain a world power, defend itself, and remain economically strong without the capability to manufacture cars – processes that also allow us to design and build military vehicles, and equipment?

The loss of our auto industry is a sword that cuts both ways (and both are bad).  We are losing not just our manufacturing base, but the ability to support our retirees and our national defense.  I am by no means suggesting the nationalization of the industry.  I am an entrepreneur and believe strongly in the free market.  The private sector is definitely the most efficient vehicle to provide jobs, benefits, and manufacturing capabilities and must continue to do so.  What our government needs to do is to make sure we are not undermining ourselves with unfair trade practices.  Otherwise, we will be exporting the Bobs’ salaries, pensions, and benefits and our ability to equip our military.  Free trade is critical.  So is our ability to feed our families and defend ourselves.

By the way – thanks, Bob.  You will never know how much you made my day!