Editor’s Letter: A preview of our November/December issue

Our fall issue features articles about automation, solar manufacturing and the rise of the mega-dairy.

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President Trump’s talk of pulling out of NAFTA has many Oregon businesses worried. Canada was Oregon’s No. 2 destination for exports in 2015, while Mexico was No. 11, according to the state’s economic development agency Business Oregon. 

But even as a new round of NAFTA negotiations gets underway this month, other factors are driving change in the state’s top export sectors, manufacturing and agriculture. How labor, mechanization and trade are reshaping business models in these industries is the focus of our November/December issue.

NovDec2017 cover

Reporter Caleb Diehl examines the impact of a longstanding trade  commission case on beleaguered solar manufacturers (“Sunset for solar?” page 18). A decision, to be handed down this month, could have  an outsize impact on Oregon. SolarWorld, headquartered in Hillsboro, was one of the plaintiffs in the case; should President Trump decide to slap tariffs on offending products — Chinese solar panels — the company’s fortunes may swing upward.

In her article “Brave New World” (page 32) research editor Kim Moore talks to legacy and innovation businesses such as Daimler Trucks North America, the maker of a new protective bicycle helmet liner and others to hear how automation, arguably more game changing than the demise of NAFTA, is changing business practices. It’s a fascinating look at how robots are reshaping the factory floor — and global supply chains.

On a smaller scale: In the shadow of apparel giants Nike and Adidas, textile and apparel startups are creating their own small-batch models for custom manufacturing. Check out our Launch column (“Sewing lessons,” page 8). 

This issue also features a deep dive into the world of megadairies. In his article, “Milking Profits” (page 24) Winston Ross explores the trends driving the consolidation of dairy farms in this state and nationwide. Skyrocketing demand is one of the drivers; so is the workforce, or lack thereof. Although the milking process has been automated, the intensive labor required continues to drive people away from small scale dairy farming.

The world is bearing witness to seismic shifts in labor, technology and international commerce. Our “Power Couple” column this month features Urban League of Portland president Nkenge Harmon Johnson and husband Erious Johnson, the former Civil Rights unit director at the Oregon Department of Justice. The column, a good foil to the other articles in this issue, shows how marrying personal and professional relationships can provide a bulwark against the unexpected changes life throws at you — on and off the factory floor.

The November/December 2017 print and digital editions will be available next week.