Two things about world events: 1) they don't seem so remote anymore; 2) they aren't. The Ebola epidemic in Africa never seemed that far away to me, for the simple reason I have spent a career covering the rubber industry.
We've always reported on natural rubber in some detail, and the Firestone NR plantation in Liberia—a country ravaged by the disease—loomed large, and not just because it was the biggest in the world.
Most of the stories we ran about Firestone in Liberia during my tenure with this publication were awfully negative. Liberia's 14 years of civil war began in 1989, and the Firestone plantation was at the center of much of the misery. Suffice to say that Charles Taylor, the warlord whose forces controlled the NR operation for many years, is in prison after being convicted of war crimes.
Even after Taylor lost power, the Bridgestone Corp. subsidiary was under fire for its labor practices, including a very negative report from the United Nations. The company stepped up to correct those problems and launched a public relations charm campaign to convince the world the bad old days were gone.
And now Ebola. In some ways, it has become Firestone Liberia's finest hour.
The company has been a model for how to react to the crisis. It has poured money and resources into the fight against the terrible disease and has won deserved praise for its efforts. That reflects well on the entire rubber industry, and it gives you, as a member of the business, a connection to Ebola.
Ah, but I have an even closer “six degrees of separation” to the events concerning Ebola. Perhaps you do, too.
It was big news when one of the poor nurses who contracted Ebola while treating the first case of the disease in the U.S.—a man infected with Ebola in Liberia who flew to Dallas—took a weekend trip to visit her family. Not knowing she had the disease, she flew to Cleveland and went on to her family home.
That home is in a suburb of Akron—Akron, still home of Goodyear, a big Bridgestone tech center, many suppliers to the rubber industry and one of the premier polymer schools, the University of Akron.
That suburb happens to be Tallmadge. I live about 300 feet from Tallmadge, and spend a lot of time there.
I wondered if people would panic and, to be honest, expected many would. While Ebola is all anyone talked about around here for several days, it seemed people generally believed the cautionary, and calming, information put out by health and government officials.
People in the rubber industry, a decidedly global business, are well acquainted with how the world has shrunk. The Ebola crisis is the latest example of that fact.
Noga is a contributing editor to RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at [email protected]