Reviewing the lineup of features as I usually do before writing this column, I was struck by how insignificant the contents of this issue seemed to be in light of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Measured against the incalculable losses in human lives, in business, and in a sense of personal security, working to shave a few hours off production time, reduce costs by a few dollars per item, or increase quality suddenly seemed to border on the ridiculous. Think about it. You've lost sleep over missing delivery dates by a few hours. You've very nearly given yourself an ulcer agonizing over your company's stock valuation -- and probably hurled a few choice invectives at the analysts who wield so much influence over it. Or perhaps you've patted yourself on the back for solving such pressing problems as providing employees with Internet access to their 401(k) accounts or for finally getting that new CRM software up and running. All those workplace worries and victories seemed trivial in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, didn't they? Certainly they did, but let's not sell ourselves short. Those workplace issues that seem so insignificant next to matters of life and death are critical to the well-being of our economy. They are just as critical -- perhaps even more so -- during times of national crisis as they are in times of relative calm. And just as we all have roles to play in the economy during peacetime, we also have roles to play during crisis. Most of the roles in either case are not heroic, and most are not played on center stage, but that doesn't make them insignificant. Our mission is to help revive the economy by tackling the everyday tasks of productivity improvement in all its forms. That isn't to say we can't learn from the new perspective from which we saw our world and our lives in the morning hours of Sept. 11. Perhaps the most important lesson -- and this is where the information in this issue, which features the stories of IndustryWeek's Best Plants winners, comes in -- is the value of each and every one of your company's employees. Just as efforts to improve business productivity in times of national crisis might mistakenly be viewed as insignificant, the jobs done by plant workers are often mistakenly undervalued by executives. Yet if we've learned nothing else from the 12 years of Best Plants competitions, we've learned that when given a chance, when empowered and educated, the line worker holds the keys to unlocking countless productivity gains at your manufacturing facilities. In fact, IndustryWeek research shows that no other management best practice correlates more strongly with the Best Plants winners than those that foster employee empowerment. So let's take a moment to reflect on our mission, and then make sure we all maximize our efforts toward rebuilding this economy. Patricia Panchak is IW's editor-in-chief. She is based in Cleveland.