Storm Warning

Oct. 15, 2003


When there's any opportunity to stop for a minute, catch our collective breaths, and take a hard look at our industry, it's clear there are many, many subjects we should talk about inside the covers of this magazine.

Job #1 is providing information that helps you do your job better. But, from time to time, there are important issues that involve something more than that.

Like what, Joe? Well, of late, I'm hearing more and more about the loss of U.S.-based technical and operations jobs to countries such as China and India, in a fashion similar to what's happened to the IT world.

This has ignited a fire storm of concern, even outrage in some circles. Increasing numbers of professionals, many of them recently affected by it, wonder where it's going to stop.

Offshore manufacturing has been part of the chemical industry for a while. Not only control system and automation programming work is being sent to India, but it appears that process design is moving offshore, too. The design work for that new sulfone polymers process in Georgia or that more energy-efficient steam cracker operation in Louisiana is being outsourced to countries where process engineers earn one-third of what their U.S. counterparts do. The trend is no longer a trend. It's an expanding fact of business.

I know the pitch about the value of a global economy. We all do. But segments of skilled U.S. jobholders, this industry included, are having a real hard time finding what's in it for them. It seems to me there have to be risks in a strategy that relinquishes even a little control over such important technology functions.

I think we need to talk about this type of issue. From where I sit, there isn't a good public forum out there where operations and engineering professionals in the chemical industry can air concerns about how these industry-wide issues are affecting their abilities and their livelihoods. That's what we need to do when it's warranted. And, with your help, we'll do it better than anybody else.

Gear change: I need to tell you all how delighted I am by the terrific reader response to our first Chemical Processing Process Puzzler question. As you'll see on page 49, we filled three pages (all the room we could spare this month) with your responses, and there are more in the Web version as well. All I can say is keep it up.

Also, this month I'm pleased to introduce another new member of the increasingly formidable Chemical Processing editorial team. Nick Basta is a veteran of the chemical processing biz. With a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton, and industry experience at Union Carbide, Nick has held senior editorial positions for 17 years with chemical industry magazines.

Starting this month, you'll find Nick holding down our Closer Look post. In addition, you'll find him as a regular feature writer, researching and creating user-rich articles on subjects ranging across the full spectrum of chemical plant unit operations.

Joe Feeley

Publisher and Editor-In-Chief

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