Just my thoughts on why it matters…
I have always heard that manufacturing was the key to economic growth. I knew that intellectually but didn’t understand it completely until I was traveling home from work one day.
I used to be a mariner in the offshore oil fields. I worked as a licensed engineer on offshore supply vessels. Driving the interstate from Louisiana to Georgia got old so I would venture off of the interstate and would drive the back roads and state highways. It would add a little bit of time to the ride but the trips home were usually pleasant and relaxing when I got off the interstate. It was well worth the slower route.
Part of the trip took me through middle Alabama, which can get rural with a quickness. I would wonder what the people who lived in the middle of nowhere do for work, how did they pay their bills and raise their kids? My travels would bring me through the hollowed out main streets of Smalltown, USA and past old abandoned industrial sites. The work in these towns was gone. The people that lived in many of these places were trapped. They couldn’t afford to leave.
What really opened my eyes to the benefit of local manufacturing was this one trip home in particular. It was actually the first trip where I decided to find some old “goat trails” to follow in order to get home. I was driving through middle Alabama and was thinking about the question I asked earlier; where do the people that live here go for work? I came upon a factory of some sort about the same time that I thought the question. I’m not sure what it was that they made or did. I’m guessing metal stamping or some kind of metal fabrication judging by the machinery that I could see through the open doors.
What was really interesting though was the parking lot. There were so many cars in the parking lot that people were parking in the grass. The parking lot was beyond full. People were working. They were providing for their families and they were living their lives.
I started to notice the differences between towns where there was a large mill or some base of manufacturing nearby. The rural towns where there was some level of manufacturing showed less decline than others and some showed growth. Cartersville, Georgia is an example of a community that has a strong manufacturing base and the area is thriving, of course easy access to Atlanta and Chattanooga is a plus, but the area is thriving and still has the small town feel.
Manufacturing is the only industry that adds value to something else. A raw material is extracted or produced and then that material is made into something of intrinsic value. A tree has little economic value while it is growing and making oxygen. When the tree is cut down and processed, a whole range of products can be made. These products add economic value to the tree. We cut down the tree because we want what can be made from the tree. Service industries only add cost, which only benefits a small number of highly skilled people and the owners of that industry.
Manufacturing has always been a place where the unskilled could learn a trade and could grow into something more in life or could provide a life that would better the lives of peoples children. It was an industry where lives could be changed for the better. We have hollowed out manufacturing in this country at the expense of our people. We have placed profits and money over people and the result is the decline and end of many small towns all across the country.
Its not only the small towns that suffer. Think of every large city in the Nation. While many of the cities have thriving technology centers and financial centers, they also have slums and ghettos. All cities have places where poverty and crime are the norm. Many of the large cities were started because something tangible was made in that city. Once things were made elsewhere, the city started to die and crime and poverty became rampant. It stands to reason that crime would happen as there is nothing for people to do, they have to survive somehow so they turn to drugs to ease the pain and they turn to crime to support the drugs and to support themselves. Businesses start to leave and it just becomes a death spiral for the city. The people that can leave do, but the rest are just left behind to struggle and fight.
What opportunities could be provided to our poor and broken if there was a job that could provide for them? What if we returned to a industrial economy instead of a “information” economy (whatever that means), or a financial services economy? What would happen if we could provide more jobs for people that could actually allow them to grow instead of suffer?
Manufacturing matters in ways that are truly important. The money produced supports the local economies. The communities grow when there is a base of well paying and secure jobs, not just for people with highly specialized and expensive degrees, but for every one involved. From the miner and equipment operator working to extract natural resources and recycled materials to the IT nerd that keeps the whole thing running through the magic of technology and everyone in between, manufacturing provides meaningful and challenging jobs but it also provides a path for the forklift driver to work his or her way up to becoming a IT nerd or plant manager or business owner. Manufacturing provides all of those opportunities and through committing to American Manufacturing, we can reverse some of the cultural and economic rot that seems to be growing every day.
Commit to looking for products that are American made. They may be a little more expensive but on the other end of the supply chain, there is someone who’s very life could be changed. It is a commitment that we should all make on some level.