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Sony chief laments area's loss of skilled labor

| Saturday, Sept. 20, 2003

If the executives at Sony had it to do over today, they might not have been so eager to locate their massive television manufacturing plant in Western Pennsylvania, the company's top local executive said Friday.

Charles Gregory, president of Sony Technology Center-Pittsburgh, which employs 3,300 people in East Huntingdon Township, Westmoreland County, said that 13 years ago, what won Sony over was the region's "highly skilled, highly trainable work force."

Today, however, the company is seeing a serious erosion of the skill level of those applying for work at the plant. Making matters worse, he said, is that the applicants by-and-large show little desire to want to learn.

Speaking at the annual St. Barnabas Leadership Conference in Richland Township, Gregory said parents, teachers and school administrators are to blame for a negative perception of vocational schooling.

Gregory did say the decision to locate here was the right one because of the region's excellent highway access and superior quality of life.

Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey echoed Gregory that the region will need more technicians than business school graduates.

"That may be the biggest determining factor of the next 10 to 5 years," he said of the region's ability to grow employment.

Roddey added that public employee unions must change their thinking to allow municipalities and school districts to be more flexible and efficient.

"The trade unions get it," he said. "The plumbers, the carpenters, the electricians and the masons understand the need to be competitive. It's the public employee unions where we have the problem."

On another topic, Dr. Kenneth Melani, chief executive of Highmark Inc., warned of a health care cost crisis that could largely be solved for free.

People here, he said, smoke too much, are too fat and don't exercise.

Sixty percent of residents answering a recent survey, he said, were overweight.

"When we weighed the other 40 percent, we found that 20 percent of them were overweight," he said.

Melani said that government regulators need to reconsider approving new medical devices that add greatly to health care cost, but do little to improve length or quality of life. He singled out devices such as left ventricular assist devices and implantable defibrillators.

"There needs to be a cost-benefit analysis," he said.

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