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Can't Put A Price on Education

June 2003
By Erik Cagle

Chevy Cavalier? That's it? No Dodge Intrepid? How about a Chrysler Sebring?

"The Cavalier has a CD player," noted Sarah, the Enterprise rental rep, as I finalized travel plans for the trip to RIT for the Heidelberg Web Press Lab dedication.

That was all she needed to say. Seven hours in a car, at the mercy of radio stations adorning northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, would be wholly intolerable. When the only discernable tune is "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias, road rage kicks into high gear and you end up sitting in a fetal position in a field somewhere around Homer, NY. Thus, driving to Rochester and RIT solo would not be so bad with the disc player.

And what a dreadfully boring ride it was, with nothing but rolling hills and purple majestic mountains as far as the eye can see (which is not far when you're trying to sustain 75 mph on winding highways). Some of the dropoffs were breathtaking, so it was important to keep eyes on the road, except to change CDs.

No Brainer

I wanted to be entertained. Fancy billboards, neon signs, bright flashing lights, juggling clowns riding unicycles. . .this was too much nature to handle. Then, just south of Syracuse, was a hand-scrawled sign informing interlopers that they were passing through Onondaga Nation Territory. A real Indian reservation! Wouldn't it be neat to see arrows bouncing off the windshield? My grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, so perhaps I'd be spared the consequences of treading on sacred ground with a mid-sized automobile.

Finally, some eye candy. The Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Whee!

Upon arriving at the hotel, I found my room boasted a view of Five Star Tool Co. And, apparently, the runway for Rochester International Airport ended but yards from my window.

Stinkin' travel agent.

"Anything to do around here?" I asked the woman at the front desk.

"Hah. You've got to be kidding," she replied.

"Guess I'll watch TV then," was my reply.

"Nothing on TV," she said. "You gotta eat. We've got a McDonald's and a mall."

Instead, this reporter opted for "Survivor: Amazon," and a pack of cinnamon Pop Tarts from the hall vending machine.

Friday morning arrives, and it is clearly Heidelberg's day. Everywhere you looked, there were representatives from the German press manufacturing stalwart. Both Greg Norris of Heidelberg Web and

Barbara Touchette of Heidelberg USA seemed very excited to be at the university which, aside from the prison-esque architectural style, is set off from the heart of Rochester in a serene, wooded setting.

The morning's print symposium was headlined by Bruce James, who took the helm as U.S. Public Printer earlier this year. James also chairs the school's board of trustees. "I'm impressed that any series of speeches would get you out of bed before noon," James addressed the students.

James told the story of a typical flight he'd taken and the usual small talk that occurs between strangers. When asked what he does for a living, James gives the simple answer, "I'm a printer. And then eyes go directly to my fingernails to verify the statement."

Reminiscing on his printer roots, James fondly recalled acquiring his first printing press at the age of 11, a 5x8˝ Kelsey hand press. Fast forward to the previous evening, where James was enjoying dinner in the company of students. One student told him that he was hooked "when he got his first computer at the age of 11 and learned how to use Pagemaker," James related.

"We've come full circle."

Gift of Knowledge

While the ways and means of producing printed product may have, and continue to change drastically, one aspect of the day's events remained timeless and unchanged. Throughout the agenda—the print symposium, a celebratory luncheon, the dedication ceremony and a tour of the Web Lab and the beautiful, if monstrous, Sunday 2000 gapless press—one recurring theme was the value of partnership in education.

Heidelberg bestowed a press worth in the neighborhood of $7 million to $10 million, with several millions more in accessories from other vendors. But as Heidelberg Chairman Bernhard Schreier observed, sometimes the greatest ROI "transcends spreadsheets and bottom lines."

Neither knows what the future holds for printing, but both the vendor and educational institution appreciate the value in having the most advanced technology as a resource for the ensuing waves of students at RIT. In helping to cultivate future crops of printers, Heidelberg is aiding the industry's future, as well as its own.

With the economy still whacking the industry relentlessly and CFOs monitoring bottom lines like a hawk, it's comforting to know that manufacturers have more than ROI and CYA on their minds. This is, after all, their industry too and it behooves them to care for its future.

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