In the past week in the media, I’ve seen two examples of what I think are brilliant stories of the U.S. manufacturing community rallying to preserve and sustain its viability. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that not only are they inspirational and uplifting, they also represent what manufacturers around the world will eventually have to wrestle with as markets shift, trade policies and channels are refined, and new economies and markets emerge. Here’s my take on those examples:
The Cradle of Tool and Die
The Wall Street Journal recently published a story titled “Joy in Meadville,” a brief study of the PA town that is considered the birthplace of America’s tool and die industry. The story got my attention because I recently spoke to a few shop owners in Meadville, and had I heard from them the same cautious optimism in the WSJ article.
What has Meadville a bit more confident than other U.S. manufacturers is the combination of moving into growth businesses and markets, and creation of a technical school by the local business community and government that helps to provide new employees for Meadville’s shops and plants.
In the article, one shop owner says that 10 years ago automotive work accounted for 80 percent of its business. Now that number is only 5 percent, since he moved his business into medical and aerospace—more profitable and sustainable markets. While he says business is down overall, these moves set his business up to enjoy less of a downturn than his competitors.
Also, Meadville’s technical school not only provides programs that help to sustain the local workforce, it also gives access to its high technology equipment to smaller manufacturers, allowing them to compete for higher-tolerance, more profitable work. (To read the article, Google “Joy in Meadville” and be sure to check out the slideshow.)
NBC News recently aired a story shot in March at S.C. Manufacturing, a shop in Akron, OH, that works in tandem with the local Akron CNC Training Center (www.akroncnc.com) to provide CNC machining skills training to local students.
That seems like standard stuff, but in my view S.C. Manufacturing has gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing its workers free mentoring services to these students and access to its facilities to learn and train.
I was inspired by S.C.’s message that giving back to its community and the industry was a responsibility not taken lightly. And I wonder what if all shops took such a strong step toward nurturing our own and helping laid-off workers and young people through tangible efforts like these.
Yes, We Can
To me, both of these stories reinforce the importance of embracing change rather than just being victims of it. In the face of global recession, governmental and cultural indifference and shifting markets, these communities and the heroes in them are taking action and creating opportunity where most would expect little to exist.
Manufacturing can survive and remain a vital cog in our economy, but it takes hard work and an acceptance of and commitment to change. It can be done. Maybe your company or community is making the same sorts of investment in the success and future of manufacturing. If so, we’d love to hear your story.