Economy & business

Small US Company Bucks a Trend, Adding Manufacturing Jobs

A rising tide of automation, trade problems and lagging growth in productivity has slashed millions of jobs from the U.S. manufacturing sector. At the same time, a small factory in Northbridge, Massachusetts, has been hiring, expanding and exporting.

Riverdale Mills hopes to grow further by making unusual products and building a strong workforce.

Riverdale makes materials that have revolutionized lobster fishing with unique processes and materials. The company applied lessons from fishing to making security fences, including some that protect borders. 

After welding, the wire metal mesh is dunked in a vat filled with tons of molten zinc at a historic building about an hour west of Boston. It’s just one part of a complex process used to make many kinds of rust-resistant products. 

That process combines skilled people and high-tech innovation. It’s helping the company find new markets for updated products, and means while other factories are laying off workers, Riverdale’s Dennis Meola is training new employees.

“We have an experienced operator training a new individual,” Meola said. “We started a new person today, as a matter of fact.”

Riverdale CEO Jim Knott says the company is growing, in part because he sells nearly half of his products overseas. Knott says he needs more than just machines to keep customers happy here and abroad.

“The key to being successful, both globally and in a domestic market, you have to have skilled or trained employees who are capable of making a leadership product that is better than what other people are making throughout the world,” he said.

On a recent visit to Riverdale, technicians were upgrading computers and other equipment that helps to run a huge machine that makes hundreds of welds at once. More automation is the reason that U.S. manufacturers produce as much as ever, with ever fewer people.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Tom Kochan says automation and international trade has cut one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs since 1980. He says American employers mistakenly think of labor only as a cost to be minimized, not an asset. 

“Anytime some new form of technology comes along that they think they can replace that worker with technology, they tend to move in that direction,” Kochan said. “Often what that does is it over-invests in technology and under-invests in worker skills, and they end up still being the high cost producer.”

MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee says the U.S. education system is turning out workers with the skills “we needed 50 years ago.” He says a more modern approach is needed to boost productivity and prosperity. 

“We need to be encouraging creativity,” he said. “I think we need to be encouraging not just the ability to solve problems, but the ability to figure out what problem we should go chase down next. Technology is still lousy at that.”

McAfee says people eventually will adapt to the changing work environment, much as their ancestors did when the U.S. economy shifted from farming to manufacturing. It was a wrenching transition that began around the time when the building that now houses Riverdale Mills produced bayonets for the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War.

Arts & Entertainment

AP Image of Turkish Assassin Wins World Press Photo Award

Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici won the 2017 World Press Photo competition Monday for his image of a gun-wielding off-duty Turkish policeman standing over the body of Russia’s ambassador, whom he had just fatally shot.

Ozbilici’s image was part of a series titled “An Assassination in Turkey” that also won the Spot News – Stories category. The photos were captured in the moments before and after policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas drew a handgun and shot Ambassador Andrei Karlov at a photo exhibition in Ankara on Dec. 19.

In the winning photo, the gunman, wearing a suit and tie, stands defiantly, pistol in his right hand pointed at the ground and with his left hand raised, his index finger pointing upward. His mouth is wide open as he shouts angrily. The ambassador’s body lies on the floor just behind Altintas.

Another image in the series showed the ambassador before the shooting, with Altintas standing behind him.

Ozbilici said his professional instincts kicked in despite the shocking scene unfolding in front of him.

“It was extremely hot, like I had boiled water on my head, then very cold, very cold. Extremely dangerous,” Ozbilici said in an interview. “But at the same time I understood that this was big history, it was history, [a] very, very important incident.”

So the veteran AP photographer did what he has learned to do over some 30 years: “I immediately decided to do my job because I could be wounded, maybe die, but at least I have to represent good journalism,” he said.

The winning image announced Monday was among 80,408 photos submitted to the prestigious competition by 5,034 photographers from 125 countries. The jury awarded prizes in eight categories to 45 photographers from 25 countries.

“Burhan’s striking image was the result of skill and experience, composure under extreme pressure and the dedication and sense of mission that mark AP journalists worldwide,” said AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee. “We are enormously proud of his accomplishment.”

Jury chair Stuart Franklin called Ozbilici’s image “an incredibly hard-hitting news photograph” and part of a strong series documenting the assassination.

“I think Burhan was incredibly courageous and had extraordinary composure in being able to sort of calm himself down in the middle of the affray and take the commanding pictures that he took,” Franklin said. “I think as a spot news story it was terrific.”

Denis Paquin, AP’s acting director of photography, said Ozbilici’s actions that day were typical of his professionalism. 

“Burhan would tell you he was just doing his job. His humble professionalism, combined with incredible courage, enabled him to capture these unforgettable images,” he said.


The eclectic selection of winners highlighted the dominant news topics of the last year _ including conflict in Syria and Iraq, the migrant crisis, the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the Olympic Games in Rio. Among winning nature photos were images depicting humanity’s devastating effect on wildlife, including a gruesome photograph of a poached rhino with its horn hacked off and another showing a turtle swimming while enmeshed in a green fishing net.


Among other winners, Jonathan Bachman of the United States, a photographer for Thomson Reuters, won the Contemporary Issues – Singles category with an image of Ieshia Evans being detained in Baton Rouge during a protest on July 9 over the death of Alton Sterling, a black man killed by police. Evans stands bolt upright in a flowing dress as two police officers in heavy body armor and helmets move to take her into custody.


Franklin called Bachman’s image “an unforgettable sort of comment on passive resistance. It’s really a lovely photograph. You’ll never forget it.”


AP photographer Vadim Ghirda, based in Romania, won second prize in the Contemporary Issues – Singles category with an emotionally charged photo of migrants crossing a river as they attempt to reach Macedonia from Greece, while another AP photographer, Felipe Dana, came third in the Spot News – Singles category for his image of an explosion in Mosul, Iraq. And Santi Palacios won second in the General News – Singles category for a photo that ran on the AP wire of two Nigerian children who said their mother died in Libya aboard a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea.

Economy & business

One-Man Chocolate Factory Flourishes

Americans shower their loved ones with gifts on Valentine’s Day, with chocolate candy being the most popular gift-giving item, according to a recent National Retail Federation survey. The organization estimates consumers will spend $1.7 million on chocolates this year. That keeps Ben Rasmussen, who creates award-winning chocolates, especially busy. VOA’s June Soh visited his one-man chocolate factory in the Virginia suburbs. Carol Pearson narrates her report.

Economy & business

China Inviting World Leaders to Forum on Fighting Protectionism

In May 2015, China convened a meeting of representatives of 56 countries to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, against stiff U.S. resistance. This May, Chinese President Xi Jinping is inviting heads of several countries in Asia, Europe and the American continent for a meeting in Beijing under the name of One Belt, One Road (OBOR) Forum.

Chinese officials and experts have made it clear the May meeting’s purpose goes beyond OBOR because they want it to discuss the rising specter of protectionism in different countries, including the United States. China is also trying to raise and consolidate international opinion against actions by U.S. President Donald Trump, who is expected to impose restrictions on Chinese goods and investments, independent analysts said.

“The upcoming forum will be a major event for China’s diplomacy in 2017. It is set to discuss plans for future cooperation of the involved countries and organizations, explore ways to address regional and global economic problems, and generate fresh energy for interconnected development,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

Goal post

Analysts said China has sensed an opportunity to grab a leadership role after Trump’s comments and actions caused uncertainties in European markets, and voices of resentment emerged from some countries like Australia, after his talks with their leaders.

The forum is also part of China’s efforts to enhance international business and political ties out of fear of a debilitating trade war with the United States that might occur if Trump goes ahead with his election promises to impose a high duty on Chinese goods, and restrict investments from China, they said.

“Trade war with the United States will be very bad for the Chinese economy. This fear of trade war is behind the move to expand cooperation and seek mutual interest with countries other than the U.S.,” Jan Gaspers, head of research for the European China Policy unit at Berlin’s Mercator Institute for China Studies, told VOA.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is among the first to accept the forum invitation. British Prime Minister Teressa May’s office has said she will soon visit China, which is being read in Beijing as confirmation that she will attend the forum. China’s new friend, Philippine President Rodrigo Détente, who chairs the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), has also promised to attend. China expects heads of more than two dozen governments to attend.

Chinese authorities want to turn OBOR or the Silk Road program into a diplomatic tool. “The future of globalization and the world economy are extremely uncertain. And the forum in May will reinforce confidence in the world economy,” the official media quoted Chu Yin, associate professor at the University of International Relations, as saying.

Bai Gao, a sociology professor at the Duke University took a somewhat different view. “I don’t see the purpose of this gathering is to raise voices against Trump’s actions. Rather, I guess the purpose of this gathering is to build consensus on free trade and raise voices against protectionism,” he said. .

Road to everywhere

China’s Ministry of Commerce recently said Chinese companies have invested $24.19 billion in 77 “economic cooperation zones”, which are industrial areas, in 36 countries. These zones covered 1,522 foreign companies and played a positive role in “the development of bilateral trade and economic relationship”.

Analysts say industrial investments are are foreign policy tools for China.

Beijing launched a $10 billion fund for industrial development in Latin America in 2015, and followed it up last year with a $11 billion fund for China-led development in Europe. More such announcements could be expected at the forum.

“The conference would be genuinely meaningful only if it is accompanied by commitments to more fully liberalize China’s economy, instead of the usual promises of China handing out more money, much of which will go to Chinese state owned enterprises,” said Scott Kennedy, director of the project on Chinese business and political economy at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Making the magic work


Analysts say several European countries are uneasy about China using state power to aggressively promote Chinese companies instead of living up to its rhetoric about globalization and free trade.

“I do not see Europe being in a role that would allow China to take the lead in the global economic order without first complying to international standards on fair trade, environment and other issues,” Gaspers said. “Chinese are not terribly keen about promoting international standards. European countries are trying to find out how they can work constructively with China without giving up its standards”.

Some analysts said China is complaining too much without taking account of its own behavior on trade and investment.

“Whatever the difference between Xi and Trump in terms of rhetoric, China still has far more barriers in place to foreign goods, services and investment than the United States,” Kennedy of CSIS said, adding, “The U.S. also lacks the kind of industrial policy that China wields to give an added advantage to domestic companies”.

Science & Health

Toxic, Man-made Pollutants Found in Deepest Oceans

No place is safe from pollution, including the deepest parts of the oceans.

Writing in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom say small creatures called amphipods that live in the Mariana and Kermadec trenches, both of which are more than 10 kilometers deep, have “extremely high levels” of man-made toxic chemicals in their fatty tissues.

The chemicals, called Persistent Organic Pollutants, include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

PCBs were produced from the 1930s through the 1970s when they were outlawed. But researchers estimate 1.3 million tonnes of PCBs were produced worldwide.

They entered the environment through “industrial accidents and discharges and leakage from landfills.” Furthermore, they are “invulnerable to natural degradation” so can last for decades.

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth, said lead researcher, Alan Jamieson.

“In fact, the amphipods we sampled contained levels of contamination similar to that found in Japan’s Suruga Bay, one of the most polluted industrial zones of the northwest Pacific.”

To reach their conclusions, researchers used deep-sea landers to bring organism samples up from the trenches, which are 7,000 kilometers apart.

The pollutants, according to Jamieson, likely sank to the bottom of the ocean through contaminated plastic garbage as well as dead animals that drifted to the bottom and were eaten by the amphipods. Amphipods with toxic chemicals are then eaten by bigger organisms as the pollutants make their way back into the food chain.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on earth really brings home the long term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” said Dr Jamieson. “It’s not a great legacy that we’re leaving behind.”

Economy & business

Peugeot Buys Iconic Indian Car Brand

French car manufacturer Peugeot has bought India’s most iconic car brand from its maker Hindustan Motors in a deal that signifies the passing of an era in India’s motoring history.


Over the weekend, the C.K. Birla Group that owns Hindustan Motors said it had signed an agreement with Peugeot SA to sell the Ambassador for 800 million rupees ($12 million).


The hulking Ambassador sedan remained largely unchanged for more than five decades, ferrying India’s elite, including prime ministers, visiting heads of states and celebrities. It was a throwback to an era when India’s policy of economic self-sufficiency meant domestically produced cars were the norm.


First manufactured in 1948, the Ambassador was the only luxury car available in India till the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, economic reforms had opened India’s doors to many small car manufacturers.


Hindustan Motors stopped making Ambassadors in 2014 after about 2,200 cars were sold in 2013.


Fondly referred to as the “Amby,” the Ambassador was modeled after the British Morris Oxford III. Its lumbering shape, often compared to a bowler hat on wheels, was suited for India’s pot-holed roads and rugged terrain. But poor gas mileage and a lack of luxury features led a rising Indian middle class to aspire to own cheaper, newer models that were easier to maneuver in crowded cities.


Displaced by Japanese and Korean cars, the sturdy Ambassadors were relegated to use by taxi services and government departments. But even that has changed with the Indian government switching to smaller, swifter cars than the bulbous Ambassador.


It is unclear what exactly the French car maker plans to do with the Ambassador brand.


Peugeot pulled out of India after a joint-venture effort in the 1990s collapsed. Last month it signed an agreement with Birla to return to the fast-growing market, saying it will invest $107 million in a Hindustan Motors manufacturing facility in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.


That deal includes hiking manufacturing capacity to 100,000 vehicles a year, to take advantage of the rapid growth in India, where car sales expanded 7 percent to 2.96 million cars last year.


Science & Health

Some China Cities Close Poultry Markets Amid Bird Flu Fears

Several Chinese cities have shut down their poultry markets in the wake of a bird flu outbreak that has killed at least two dozen people this year across China.

Live poultry sales have now been suspended in Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province, as well as markets across the eastern province of Zhejiang, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday, as authorities deal with dozens of new cases of H7N9 bird flu.


Nearly 300 markets and slaughterhouses were shut down in the southwestern Chinese city of Suining, where authorities are also cracking down on unauthorized poultry businesses.


Xinhua reported that 21 people in Jiangsu province died in January after contracting H7N9. Hunan authorities have reported at least five deaths this year, and an infant girl has died in southwestern Yunnan province.


A major H7N9 bird flu outbreak in humans first struck China in March 2013, killing more than 40 people and devastating the poultry industry. H7N9 is considered less virulent than the H5N1 strain, blamed by the World Health Organization for hundreds of deaths worldwide over the last decade.


Most people infected with H7N9 are believed to contract it by touching infected poultry or entering contaminated areas, according to a WHO alert published last month. Experts do not believe the virus can be spread widely between humans, the WHO said.


In Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city, more than 30 percent of the live poultry markets were found to be contaminated with H7N9, state media reported Saturday. Authorities in Guangzhou have announced temporary three-day suspensions of the poultry trade to try to contain the virus.

Arts & Entertainment

Winners at the 2017 Grammy Awards

The 59th annual Grammy Awards were held in Los Angeles on February 12, honoring the top performers in music over the previous year. Here are the award winners:


Album of the year: “25,” Adele.

Record of the year: “Hello,” Adele.

Best new artist: Chance the Rapper.

Song of the year (songwriter’s award): “Hello,” Adele and Greg Kurstin.

Best pop solo performance: “Hello,” Adele.

Best pop vocal album: “25,” Adele.

Best traditional pop vocal album: “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin,” Willie Nelson.

Best pop duo or group performance: “Stressed Out,” twenty one pilots.

Best dance/electronic album: “Skin,” Flume.

Best rock song: “Blackstar,” David Bowie.

Best rock album: “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” Cage the Elephant.

Best alternative music album: “Blackstar,” David Bowie.

Best R&B album: “Lalah Hathaway Live,” Lalah Hathaway.

Best urban contemporary album: “Lemonade,” Beyonce.

Best rap album: “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper.

Best country album: “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson.

Best country solo performance: “My Church,” Maren Morris. Best jazz vocal album: “Take Me to the Alley,” Gregory Porter.

Best jazz instrumental album: “Country for Old Men,” John Scofield.

Best compilation soundtrack for visual media: “Miles Ahead,” Miles Davis & various artists

Producer of the year, non-classical: Greg Kurstin.

Best music video: “Formation,” Beyonce.