Manufacturing's true leaders aren't waiting

As the world comes to Chicago in September for the 2012 International Manufacturing Technology Show, America has suddenly rediscovered manufacturing as a source of pride and admiration.


As the world comes to Chicago in September for the 2012 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), America has suddenly rediscovered manufacturing as a source of pride and admiration.

Not that manufacturing went anywhere, of course. But as our industry has led the U.S. economy in its halting steps out of recession, it also has done so with a commitment to improving not just what we make, but how we make it. At a time when corporate leaders are sitting on piles of cash and the White House and Congress are sitting on their hands, manufacturing has charged forward.

In our world, we now live on minute-to-minute news cycles and an emphasis on speed and volume rather than accuracy and craftsmanship. News, as it turns out, is now manufactured in much the same way as the high-volume, low-quality products that triggered the whole outsourcing hysteria of the past few years. U.S. manufacturing, as it turns out, is winning the admiration of the globe today because it wouldn’t abandon the concept of accuracy and craftsmanship.

Consumers ultimately reject sloppy products, whether it’s a new car or a news story. American manufacturers took the opportunity to stake out the high ground on quality, and that effort has paid off. Not only are American products sought again, but foreign investors are bringing their jobs to the U.S. They want high-quality products produced by skilled workers. They have a choice on where to invest their money. They have chosen the U.S. worker in increasing numbers.

Even with this reality, though, the world of manufacturing continues to evolve. The borders of nations are more blurred than ever. Manufacturing is not just a national issue but a global one, dependent on a changing global economic landscape. The old expression, “If America sneezes, the world catches cold” is no longer strictly true. China’s sluggish growth, the eurozone’s continuing issues, and political instability in the Middle East have led us all to reach for the tissue box over the past year.

As the world comes to Chicago for IMTS in September, that’s all the more reason to understand manufacturing in a global context, not just as it applies to the U.S. Too many worry about whether jobs are insourced or outsourced; what’s really important is how U.S. manufacturers can figure out what their true market could be, and then deliver products that meet the market’s needs.

Some have chosen to wait until after the U.S. elections this November to make any further moves into the global market. There is a legitimate debate about what shape federal tax policy might take, but the real issues facing manufacturers don’t need government involvement. In fact, those who would argue we need less government seem to be the ones waiting for government to do something before taking action themselves. That seems especially counterintuitive. It certainly seems unprofitable.

The ones who are venturing out to look for new markets, or the ones venturing out to attract new investors in the U.S., or—as we highlight this month—the ones who are placing a bet on the workers and the markets by expanding their plants and their product lines in the U.S. and around the globe are the ones reaping the benefits. They’re not waiting around.

New products are coming into the marketplace from those who aren’t content to wait. New plants are going up around the country. New investments are made each day in the manufacturing infrastructure. The companies we highlighted in this issue all have one thing in common: They believe in their workers above all else.

If you can’t say the same thing, then you need new workers. If you have faith in your people and your process and your future, then you need to come to Chicago in September and participate at IMTS. See what in the world is going on.

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