NPR Planet Money Correspondent Adam Davidson tackled the issue of manufacturing in the United States by examining the history of manufacturing in one town-Greenvile County, South Carolina. Greenvile used to be a textile manufacturing town where communities were defined by what factory you worked for. The jobs were great for people with little education. It was common for people to drop out of high school in order to start work. Manufacturing jobs in the United States was always a great option for people who might be unable or unwilling to go to college and get a law or business degree. Manufacturing gave a certain sect of the American population a chance at the American Dream. Over the years, as textile manufacturing jobs continued to be outsourced overseas, the factories began to close.
Why was she giving this talk? Simple; we beat the German’s in WWII due to our manufacturing abilities. Today, China can easily out produce us, so are we going to make the same mistake as the Germans did in WWII, in a future war with an industrial power that can out produce us? Well, are we? How can you say the answer is yes or no; you can’t and that’s one more reason manufacturing is so vital to US interests, on top of the importance of jobs, trade flows, and GDP growth. ”A nation lives well, when it produces well,” she reminds us, and quoted Adam Smith’s warning about not relying on military resources to make our defense systems.
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But a new crop of manufacturing jobs popped up in Greenvile. One such company is Standard Motor Products, a company that makes car parts. But the textile manufacturing jobs do not really look like the modern high tech manufacturing jobs. You won’t see any worker working up a sweat. In fact, manufacturing has changed greatly since the Industrial Revolution; the process is very automated with very little manual labor, and employees must be highly trained because they work with complicated microscopes and gages. Davidson described it more as a science lab than a typical auto plant.
Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining is another form of automation used in the U.S. manufacturing industry. CNC machines are typically lathes that machine parts used in automobiles, for instance. To operate a CNC machine requires not only machinist skills but programming skills. Just go to any online job board and search for CNC machinist jobs and a job seeker will find hundreds if not thousands of open CNC jobs. Don’t let anyone tell you that the U.S. manufacturing industry is dying. It isn’t. But it’s a high technology business that requires a high technology employee.
”Re-inventing manufacturing” almost sounds like the mission statement of a Technocrat or Futurist looking to capture the utopian dream. Indeed, but why can’t we? After all, Henry Ford’s assembly line is a pretty old concept. Yes, certainly we have made incremental advances and yet, what about the proverbial ”OMG” revolutionary innovations, and ”leap-frogging” type paradigms shifts in the manufacturing sector? I guess we are still waiting for those aren’t we? We don’t have Star Trek assimilation machines yet, I suppose someday we will, and I hope the US is the nation to bring such dreams to fruition.