American Manufacturing Renaissance

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American Manufacturing Renaissance

One of the factors that keep the American economy steadily moving ahead is its diversity. At one time, our economy was based on agriculture. Later, it was mostly industrial. But these days, it’s not dependent on any single sector for its health, and that protects it against the dangers that arise when we “put all of our eggs in one basket.”

Today, manufacturing receives relatively little attention, despite its considerable contribution to our economic health. In a knowledge-based economy characterized by high-tech glamour, we tend to downplay its importance. But according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal1 by Joel Kotkin, the death of manufacturing in the United States is greatly exaggerated.

As Kotkin explained in a recent interview on,2 many vibrant economic areas of this country — from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest — are employing highly skilled workers to manufacture $1.6 trillion worth of goods. Amazingly, that’s 42 percent more than the nation manufactured in 1982.

Among the jobs he cites as experiencing labor shortages are welders, plumbers, and machinists. Even higher skills are required in manufacturing plants that use computers and robots instead of people. Productivity is up in manufacturing, essentially because we’re able to do more with less. And this trend is moving increasingly into the southern and western parts of the nation as well as certain areas of the Great Plains.

It may be trendy to be a high-tech hub, like Austin, Texas, but making money never goes out of style. And while some 5 million industrial jobs have disappeared since the late 1970s, those were largely low-skilled positions. The number of highly-skilled manufacturing workers making an average of $24 an hour grew by more than 36 percent between 1983 and 2002, and now tops 4.5 million employees, according to research published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

According to a survey by Deloitte Consulting, 80 percent of the manufacturers who responded reported that they needed more skilled workers in areas ranging from construction to logistics management. Other jobs in demand include tool-and-die makers and truck drivers.

These jobs are attractive, because they can provide a road to upward mobility for people with less than a college degree. For example, a worker in Charleston, South Carolina, who had been making $9 an hour in retail, took 12 weeks of training as a machine operator and was hired at $14 an hour to start. That increased to $15 an hour a year later...

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