Torin Dixon
Special Correspondent

Remember the days when many Americans followed in the footsteps of their uncles, fathers and grandfathers after high school graduation and went to work at the auto plant, railroad, lumber or steel mill? Unfortunately, those days are gone forever.    

The American jobs landscape has forever changed and many Americans are waking up to the harsh realities of global economics that are forcing them to learn new skills in order to survive. Former lumber mill workers are going back to school to learn basic computer programs like Word and Excel. Laid off auto workers are desperate to find any type of job, often settling for restaurant jobs or office cleaning positions. You’ve heard all the sad, sad stories of people desperate to find any type of work.

Unfortunately, many have not heeded the warning calls to start adapting to a new employment paradigm. When the steel mills started closing in the 1980s, many workers  had to shift to other industries to survive. After NAFTA was passed in 1993, factory workers of all types were warned that the jobs would be sent to Mexico and that they should start training to attain new skills sets. Some did, but sadly many did not and remained unemployed or took an early retirement.

In today’s dim employment environment, scores of industrious workers are being forced to reinvent themselves. Here in Montana, a formerly successful general contractor who once built dozens of homes per year started a catering business and is now making boxed lunches for hundreds of oil field workers in North Dakota. Several former stone fabricators in the Northwest have laid down their polishers to move to the Dakotas for lucrative oil services jobs. A realtor friend of mine is now working as a legal secretary rather than showing and selling luxury homes.

The stories are endless of how workers are forced to find work and jobs in completely unrelated fields of expertise.

But Americans are tough and resilient, and that is one of the reasons America is a “great and noble nation.” We draw on a rich heritage of hard work and determination passed down from earlier generations of immigrants who adapted to a new country and also had to adapt their skills for mere survival.

When early explorers and homesteaders headed west, they faced enormous challenges and threats to their very survival. These stories are both myth and legend and have become part of the American ethos. We are survivors and most are not looking for charity or a handout, they just want to work and provide for their families.

The news of riots in Greece and outbursts of violence in many of the “occupy” cities around the globe (and in a few American cities) are warning signs of things to come. Let’s hope that America does not sink into the state of panic and anarchy that is threatening Europe. Let’s trust that policy makers in Europe and the America’s can stabilize the downward slide in these economies. Unfortunately, the prospects look grim for Greece as many there have grown accustomed to fat pensions, reduced work hours, months of paid vacations and a government trying to force austerity on an unwilling populace.

These tough economic times provide a ripe breeding ground for both dissent and great innovation. Many Americans laid off from formerly secure positions are starting new companies. When facing few employment opportunities, many are forced to invent new ideas, products, services and companies.

In times past, tough economic times have been the breeding grounds for great bursts of creativity and innovation. New entrepreneurs are born out of these dire situations and the stories of success become legendary. Think of the late Steve Jobs and how he reinvented Apple. Of course we all wish we could have had an “Apple” experience. We hear about stories of “instant” success that took decades to cultivate. I believe we are in one of those incubation periods.

Americans (myself included) are honing their skills, rethinking their career paths, going back to school and reinventing themselves to adapt to these challenging times. Even stone fabrication companies are getting creative  these days, crushing their waste stone into decorative gravel for landscaping. Remnants are being turned into cheese boards, pizza stones, candle bases and desktop fountains. Americans are creative and innovative, and always looking for a way to gain an edge on competitors.

Are you adapting? Are you prepared for even more possible economic challenges? Are you diversifying your skills and knowledge? I think we all must to stay competitive in the global marketplace.

America was once a manufacturing power house. Those days are dissolving before our eyes. These jobs have moved to India and China. Many Americans don’t want to make widgets anymore or pick lettuce, but we are very creative and invent many things. Steve Jobs thought of gadgets we would use, long before we knew we needed them. His story is both tragic and inspirational. But who will be the next Steve Jobs? It might be you!

I am Torin Dixon, co-owner of Montana Stone Gallery which is closing its doors due to the economic decline, and am in the process of taking 34 years of dimensional stone experience and reinventing myself....a rather interesting, painful, yet curiously exhilarating experience.

Torin Dixon has been an importer and distributor of natural stone slabs, and a fabricator/installer since 1977. He can be reached at