2006-03-26

Tech industry = Auto industry + 30 years

Does this sound familiar at all?

McGregor grew up in Memphis, when his dream job of firefighter was off limits to African Americans. Instead, he went to work in a handle-making factory at 18, where his take-home pay was $46 a week. Drafted into the Army, he went to Vietnam as a paratrooper and one night was comparing paychecks with buddies from Detroit. "They worked for Chrysler. I said my paycheck was $46 and they had hundreds of dollars," he said. "I said, damn, I'm going to Detroit when I get out."

He did, and when he got to the Fisher Body Fleetwood plant, he saw a sign on the bulletin board that he will never forget: "If you know anyone who needs a job, please bring them tomorrow." They put him to work that very day, welding back seats to car trunks. His first paycheck was $216, more than four times what he'd made in Memphis. To this day, it hangs framed on the wall in his den. "I didn't want to cash it. I just wanted to look at it," he said.

Overnight, he had become middle class — and has remained so. Now 59, he looks back in amazement at what feels like the rise and fall of a way of life, all under his nose. "First they were begging me to come. Now I'm holding an offer that says we'll pay you to leave!" he said. "How can things go from the top of the mountain to halfway down in so little time?"

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