Those Aspirational Small Businesses

Above is something you don’t see much of any more: a hand-drawn artist’s conception of a building that has yet to be built.  In this case it’s Vulcan’s last all-new building: the Special Products Division at 2625 Electronics Way, West Palm Beach, FL, which was completed and opened in 1967.  Afterwards some things changed along the way: the “Stone Drilling Machine Division” reflected the fact that Vulcan had purchased a manufacturer of water well drills and was moving the manufacturing here.  The yard to the right of the building and behind the walls looks like an open field; it was anything but, it was a fabrication yard.

Today we have very nice 3D graphics, with virtual walk-throughs and other features, to depict buildings that are yet to be.  Both then and now such graphic depictions are informative and useful for advertising purposes.  This wasn’t Vulcan’s first time to have one made; it did so when the Chattanooga plant was built seven years earlier, as you can see below at the bottom:

The deed is done: the announcement in the October 1960 issue of Contractors and Engineers. Other reasons the plant was located in Chattanooga were to put the company near a source of skilled labour (albeit one with a penchant to organise trade unions; Vulcan’s bargaining unit was initiated in 1962, about eighteen months after the plant opened) and near a source of both iron and steel castings, mainly the Ross-Meehan foundry.

That artist’s depiction was on Vulcan’s letterhead for several years.

Beyond that, such depictions of things to come are not only informative but aspirational, which is why they hang around long after the building is built.  They make statements: this is where we are going.  This is our dream.

Vulcan was a small business for its entire 144 years of existence, although in boom times it edged towards medium size.  It could have expanded further but the family got involved in other activities that contributed to the fame and prosperity but didn’t expand Vulcan.  With many, though, the small business they start is their dream and aspiration; they’ve put their eggs (literally if they’re cooking breakfast) into one basket.  That’s true both of people who are “born and raised in the USA” and the many immigrants who come here; being able to start a business is a big attraction for people coming to this country.

Now we have COVID-19, and the restrictions on travel and commerce imposed to slow the progress of this disease fall hard on the economy, but even harder on the small businesses which make up the service economy that has taken “pride of place” from manufacturers like Vulcan.  Many are poorly capitalised; the sudden drop of cash flow will be the end of the business.   Employees and employers alike will find themselves bankrupt.  Beyond that many dreams will die, many aspirations will be crushed.

Vulcan was around for a long time; the family did well for a long time, too.  But one of the reasons this site was started was to inspire others to do great things as we did.  That just got a lot harder for many small business people, many of whose enterprises won’t come out of this disaster intact.  The simple act–irrespective of the justification–of shutting down a large portion of the economy sends a message that you can have the rug pulled out from under you with little notice by your own government, and adding that instability will stifle many dreams moving forward, as it has in most of the world.

For the individual, we have this solution.  For our country, I’m not so sure.



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