Perry Sainati, founder and president of manufacturer Belden, Inc. wrote in this article for Industry Week that manufacturing is alive in America, and it is vital to our long term economic health. There have been lots of elected officials, media personalities, and others making these sorts of claims lately. However, Mr. Sainati is correct is saying that many of these people are right for the wrong reasons.
Many people have a nostalgia and a desire to return to a time in which thousands of men worked on assembly lines in huge factories. These were great jobs, and we can have lots of great jobs in manufacturing again, but Mr. Sainati correctly points out the way we make things is very different. A huge reason manufacturing is coming back to America is because of innovation: we can make more technologically advanced things, and we can make them more efficiently. This is the contribution of the movement toward lean manufacturing.
Not only are manufacturers demanding more skilled workers, but they are also operating at a smaller scale. Research from the ICIC, the Brookings Institution, and the Pratt Institute has continued to show that local networks or clusters of small manufacturers for the backbone of a new urban economy. This is certainly not your grandfather’s manufacturing. Furthermore, there is a new emphasis on buying locally that will reward manufacturers that make things near their customers. The high density of ideas and creativity in urban centers makes them a great place for this new, high-tech, high-skill manufacturing.
Though the manufacturing of the future will look much different than in the past, manufacturers will continue to discover new reasons for returning to the cities that once hosted a grand economy of American industry. Perhaps in this new and different era of manufacturing, that is one way in which the practices of the past should and will prevail.
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