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Don’t Bet on The Dinosaurs

There’s nothing I love as much as a paradox. So there’s a lot for me to get excited about with America’s current manufacturing paradox, which is whether U.S. manufacturing is The Next Big Thing or a dying dinosaur. Should we steer our children from factory work or should we embrace the opportunity to get out in front of something that changes every single day and has the potential to remake our society and economy?

Brad Plumer in The Washington Post (May 1, 2013) is putting his bets on the advanced manufacturing renaissance, while Timothy Aeppel of The Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2013) takes his cue from Morgan Stanley’s recent “blue paper” and says there’s no evidence for excitement around American manufacturing.

When the manufacturing “will it or won’t it” argument comes up at dinner parties and children’s play-dates, I’ve got an ace in the hole to describe where I stand. My ace is my very lucky position at NIST MEP where I get to see the advances being made in industrial engineering.  In spite of the fact that industrial engineering (IE) sounds rather milquetoast, IE is actually a fantastic set of career pathways.  But don’t take my word for it, visit The Motley Fool. Their article “5 Best College Degrees for Your Career” demonstrates that with an education in the STEM disciplines, a person’s career can take off in many different directions – all of them exciting.  Nuclear, chemical, aerospace and petroleum engineering, as well as actuarial science and mathematics are on The Fool’s list.  And I would include materials engineering, systems engineering, software programming, bioengineering, and industrial design in my own “awesome careers” list, because each offers multiple opportunities to make things such as nanotubes for building things, 3D-printed polymer cars, new bioengineered fuels, and actual human bones and organs.

Long-standing market experts such as Antoine van Agtmael are now arguing in favor of the American manufacturing revival, stating that a number of factors such as shale gas reserves, labor cost differentials, automation and innovation, and a focus on the emerging (market) consumer provide a strong case for U.S. manufacturing in the 21st century.   And Joe Nocera of The New York Times (April 26 2013) recently opined that the Brooklyn Navy Yard is quickly becoming a destination for the creative class – and he means “makers,” which is the Millennial term for manufacturers.

In New York state, the MEP, High Tech Rochester (HTR), helped ensure a small manufacturing client’s continued competitiveness by conducting a complete review of that client’s industrial design and engineering strategies. HTR then recommended replacing inefficient systems for developing new platform technologies and connected the client to M4 Sciences, in Indiana, which designs and develops advanced technologies for ultra-precision machining. The resulting changes were $500,000 in new product sales in a new market and a strong strategic partnership to commercialize lab technologies; A success by anyone’s standards.  To read this full story go here.

If I were a betting person, I think I’d bet that manufacturing is going to help put America back out front in innovative design and production for the foreseeable future.  Which brings me to the topic of oxymorons – but then that’s another blog.

About the author

Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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