Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Last American Light Bulb Factory Closes This Month

The last major GE factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs in the United States is closing this month, a sad exit for a product and company that can trace their roots to Thomas Alva Edison’s innovations in the 1870s.

The 200 workers churning out the last lights at the plant will lose their jobs and join the ranks of the unemployed.

During the economic downturn, political leaders have held out the promise that American advances in green technology will stem the exporting of U.S. manufacturing jobs. The lighting industry shows even when government mandates environmental innovations to Americans the manufacture of these technologies can still end up overseas.

A 2007 energy conservation measure passed by Congress that set standards essentially banning ordinary incandescents by 2014 made the plant obsolete. The law will force millions of American households to switch to more efficient bulbs.  The energy savings from switching light bulbs is expected to be large, but not without consequences.  Instead of setting a manufacturing boom is the US for compact fluorescent light (CFLs), they are all manufactured overseas, with China taking the lion's share.

Another unintended side-effect is the proper disposal of these mercury-filled and possibly carcinogenic compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Sometime in the near future the EPA will probably declare them a bio-hazard, and a major contaminate our landfills and drinking water.


  1. Yeah but who makes the bio-hazard suits? It's sad but China is kicking our butts. One of the problems is that we are running out of jobs that people with a high school education can do and still live a decent life style.
    One thing I learned recently is that Toyota was a total flop in the export market and (according to the book) wouldn't have survived early on without massive government help.

  2. Not sure who makes the bio-hazard suits, but with globalization it is hard for American workers to compete with workers who get paid a couple of bucks an hour. I don't think this just applies to unskilled labor. In my own field, computer software, we are competing with very well educated programmers from China, India, Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, etc. 3-5 offshore resources can be hired for the price of one onshore resource.

  3. Wow, it's posts like this which help me to remember that nothing happens in a vacuum (the butterfly effect). It's quite sad that these people are losing their job and that historical legacy will end.

  4. Hi Roshawn,

    It's sad to see something invented in the US now completely manufactured overseas.

  5. Hi Grouch,

    Problem is that with those 3-5 cheap computer programmers, you often get less than what you paid for. That's why IT in NA is still competitive for many things. For certain low-skill sectors though yes they can be quite effective.

    I guess I better start stocking up on incandescents. I *HATE* the light quality of CFLs, and I don't want to live in an office at home.

  6. Kevin,

    You're absolutely right. Based on my experience, it takes 3 - 4 offshore resources to replace 1 onshore resource.... then there are the communication barriers, the cultural differences, and the work ethic differences. But measuring programming productivity is difficult. All IT management seems to care about is their billing rate per hour and this makes offshoring look very attractive.