May 31, 2009

Russia's "GM"?

In April of 2006 I had the pleasure of traveling to Russia with a group of U.S. teachers to participate in a ten day study tour to the land of the Lenin, Tchaikovsky, and Sakharov. The trip, which was conducted by the Council for Economic Education, was easily the highlight of my professional career. While in Russia we spent one day touring the Khokhloma factory in Semyonov, which is located about 50 miles outside of our home base of Nizhniy Novgorod.

Walking into the factory was like taking a trip back in time. All of us commented that OHSA would have had a field day with the overpowering smell of paint fumes and lack of worker safety measures. Clearly not much had changed inside of the factory in the last few decades. Room after room was filled with Russian women who sat all day and hand painted amazing spoons, cups and nesting dolls.

Turns out that lately the Khokhloma factory has fallen on hard times as the global recession has taken its toll on the sale of souvenirs and collectibles. Not surprisingly, souvenir and craft factory owners are turning to the Russian government for help. While reading the Post article I could not help but think of what is going on right now in our economy. Substitute Detroit for Sergiyev Posad and you start to see numerous similarities. In both cities there is talk of saving a "way of life" that no longer seems very realistic.