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« That's nuts | Main | Email trail »

Feb 13, 2013


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Some interesting arguments here from Richard Florida about the shortcomings of focusing on a manufacturing rebirth.

I don't agree with his conclusion that it is an either/or proposition. Manufacturing needs to be part of the mix, but the target should be on how to improve wage growth for this sector so that it can be a stronger economic catalyst.

Ed Cone

As we were saying here the other day, also important to understand manufacturing as much more than factory jobs, also includes design, mgmnt, sourcing, service etc.

Andrew Brod

Right, and it's fair to say that manufacturing will never make a comeback without all of those elements. The era of low-margin manufacturing in the U.S. is basically over. If we have a manufacturing future, it'll have to look more like Germany than Vietnam. Fortunately, we have those elements in certain North Carolina industries.

The biggest reason activist economic-development initiatives fail is the tendency to plant seeds in infertile soil. If the right seeds and the right soil are used, collaborations like this can do great things. We have some good soil in certain industries, but beyond those niches, what's our biggest challenge? A relatively low-skill, low-education work force. However, education and training is one of the legs of NAMII's three-legged stool, which makes success in globalization-hit regions more likely.

Andrew Brod

As for Florida's article, as usual he focuses on the data, which is great. I like that. But he's missing a few points, such as the one Ed makes regarding the jobs generated by manufacturing clusters: they go far beyond the production workers whose wages Florida laments.

In addition, the fact that manufacturing-intensive counties have had low wage growth doesn't imply that a manufacturing revival won't generate good wage growth in the future.

But all in all, count me in the skeptics' camp. The manufacturing revival we're likely to get will involve slower job losses rather than job growth. It'll be about higher margins and higher value rather than higher quantities. And I've been skeptical throughout the recovery about the apparent resurgence in manufacturing, which I suspect has been driven by small quantities that don't justify overseas orders. When the numbers start getting big again, I'm guessing that we'll see more of those orders go overseas.


Andrew - If we are talking about "net" employment gains from the manufacturing sector as a whole, then, great, but that isn't a clear trend from what I can tell. I hope it is. I agree with Florida, that manufacturing jobs aren't as adaptable to changing conditions as the design and innovation sectors, but they are necessary to support the field Ed mentions above. Corporate headquarters are great too. I remember living in Portland when the City was being transformed by the growth and relocation of the shoe industry - adidas, puma, nike, new balance. Of course, there, due to growth controls, those companies revitalized inner neighborhoods rather than locating on some distant farmland next to an interstate exit.

Steve Harrison

Brian, while I understand what you're saying about revitalizing blighted urban areas, don't forget that many rural townships were formed around a local manufacturing plant (textiles, furniture, etc.).

Those populations are now economically stranded, and are much farther away from the employment of most cities' sprawl areas than inner-city folks.

Not saying we ignore the one for the other, just sayin'.


I believe its safe to say that Greensboro would qualify for this. The Obama administration has had its eye on North Carolina for some time now and the Greensboro/Triad area is at the heart of traditional manufacturing in this state where jobs have gone over seas. I think this idea is a start. There is a long way to go.


I know a great place for one of these hubs in Greensboro...Gateway University Research Park. It turns out there is a correlation between nanotechnology and 3D printing.


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