Why would a Marco Island man leave his island home near the mainland to go live on another island near another mainland, half way around the world?
For a job, that’s why. And therein lies the tale of artist and creative designer John Moulton, caught in the deluge of industry outsourcing that has dissolved so many jobs in the U.S.
John, who is 50, lives on Marco with his wife Ricki Levine and their two golden retrievers. They’ve been here full-time for the past six years, but on Saturday, John will take a plane to a place he’s never seen and knows little about — Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean on the southeast tip of India.
“I’ve been told it’s part paradise, part hell hole,” John says, the excitement noticeable in his voice.
He will be there for six weeks, he thinks. “It could be more, it could be less,” he says with a shrug. “I have no guarantees.
“I’ll be training people there to do what I have been doing and to know what I know about art and graphic design, applying the skill to creating fabrics on a large scale,” Moulton explains.
So how did this life-changing job change come about?
“I worked in textiles in Miami, Quality Fabrics, a big company. We printed fabric for draperies, tablecloths, furniture that type of thing. I was in charge of designing and digitizing artwork to print fabric on huge machines.
“I could see the textile industry in the U.S. was gone. My company sold off to others, who soon sold all the equipment to a company in Sri Lanka.”
John was out of work. That was last November. Since then, John, a talented artist, has been looking for a job, almost any job.
“Interview after interview I would come up one person shy. I went for a desk clerk job at a condo in Naples. The guy said that two years ago he had six people interview for this job and two of them couldn’t speak English. This year, he had 250 applying, engineers with college degrees, hoping to make $15 an hour standing in front of a desk. They took my name but the next day a guy showed up with every single qualification they needed.”
Another job he sought was running a T-shirt company. He’ eminently qualified in doing designs on cloth, right?
“I think I impressed the guy and though I might really get that job. But at the last minute along came a man who traveled here from the Midwest to apply. He had been operating a chain of T-shirt companies. They hired him.”
Over and over, John was either “overqualified” or swamped by other applicants with the exact skills needed.
“Before all this, I sold art in galleries and had my art displayed in 50 galleries around the world. We were taking in $250,000 from commercial artwork. As an artist you do anything that pays. I faux-painted a house last week.”
Then a former colleague in fabric design told the Sri Lankan firm about John’s savvy in creating art on fabric, his computer knowledge and so forth. He could run their plant. That produced the offer to go to Sri Lanka, but it’s to train the locals there to do the job John was doing here.
“It would never cross my mind to go there, but they knew I was the only person who can do it. And they’re paying me twice what I was earning in Miami, plus room and board and a driver.”
John’s wife will remain here on Marco Island with the dogs, knowing he may be home in six weeks. Maybe sooner, maybe later.
Moulton seems a man who is flexible but tough-minded, unwilling to throw up his hands in despair when a career careens into a ravine of potential jobs that slipped away, of being told his qualifications and skills are excellent but not in demand here anymore.
His response to the hell of unemployment is to pick up, pack light and go work in a country more than 10,000 miles from home, where the major industry for years has been war, where the blood of a thousand battles has soaked the fought-over land as recently as last month.
John hopes his work in Sri Lanka will lead to new opportunities back in the U.S. In the meantime, he’s seeing a part of the world he never imagined he’d see, on somebody else’s nickel.
“It’s an opportunity I cold not pass up. I wouldn’t think of going to that part of the world on my own time, but if someone will pay me, I find it exciting and hard to pass up. It’s extreme, but it’s also a job with eventual potential.”
His is an adventure in search of a productive, lucrative career change. In that quest, he may be like a lot of other American workers, who are finding that their mid-life crisis is a lot more demanding than leasing a zippy convertible. John Moulton wants a new lease on his professional life.
John will be writing a regular blog in the Marco Eagle, sharing his experiences in finding work, however temporary, on the other side of the world. He may also use his artistic talents to send sketches of his Sri Lanka adventure.