We’re Taking US Manufacturing For Granted

Familiarity breeds contempt. Or neglect.

We see this all the time. We grow tired of things often in our lives. In relationships. In politics. With music. With food. With jobs. It’s important that we mix things up from time-to-time. Or in many cases, to re-energize or re-commit.

Maybe – just maybe – we became so accustomed to US manufacturing ‘just being there’ that we didn’t care to protect it. To nurture it. Or even notice it anymore.

Do you ever think about the wheel? A wheel? Wheels in general?

I don’t. I mean, sitting around expending time & energy thinking about the wheel would be – I don’t know – sorta weird, don’t you think? Or at least wasteful. Or obsessive. Or maybe even somewhat dysfunctional.

But I’d like you to suspend your reluctance to do such a seemingly wasteful thing for just a moment, and consider the importance of the wheel to societies, cultures, economies, and quality of life. And I don’t just mean to picture a wheel in your head and meditate on it – I mean to look for examples around you, and consider if there’s a wheel in them. Or what role a wheel might have played in their existence.

Seriously. Try it.

You may look out the window and see cars and trucks. Those are obvious examples. But think of the engine components. The transmissions. The adjustable seats. The pumps. Now think of the machines that were used to make them – the machine tools, the material handling, the physical supply chains that move parts, assemblies, and finished products to markets. Think of the factories, and their reliance on the wheel.

You may look around your home and find many. But aside from the apparent – appliances, toys, doors, faucets – think of those things based on the wheel that aren’t so clearly recognized. Like that mouse in your hand, or that keyboard in front of you. The drawers & cabinets. Your grill (the one you cook on, not the one you’re scrunching wondering where I’m going with this).

You get the idea. If you think about it, wheels are ubiquitous. And they’re extraordinarily important to us all.

They’ve been around for 10,000 years, by some estimates. That’s a long time to get used to something.

And yet, the amount of time we spend thinking about them is directly out of proportion to their importance.

And I suspect that in many circles and segments of the US, we’ve developed the same disproportion toward manufacturing and its importance to our society, culture, economy, and quality of life.

Yes, our country and its livelihood was built on a foundation as a manufacturer – but we used to be much closer to manufacturing in our everyday lives. We fixed things. We built things. Certainly, more of us worked at companies that did those things.

Technology has created a natural disconnection from the process of manufacturing things. We’re not as directly connected to it anymore. The combination of automation, trade policies, consumerism, technology, economics, and politics, have all contributed to our distance from it. Out of sight, out of mind.

We’re seeing a lot of talk these days about the importance of manufacturing – in the press, online, from the government, from business. And that’s good. But that message is being received by fewer people with first-hand knowledge of its real value. It’s not enough to just talk about it. Until we take meaningful steps to rebuild and recommit to manufacturing, all else is window dressing.

Many of us have forgotten that aside from the miracles of creation, everything is made. Let me stress this again: look around you right now – EVERYTHING IS MANUFACTURED.

In relationships, we often realize our neglect after the fact. Sometimes, it’s too late to repair the benign but real damage that years of taking someone or something for granted can do.

But this ain’t one of them. Our relationship to – and dependence upon – manufacturing is real and salvageable and worth the re-commitment.

Maybe – just maybe – it’s simply about instilling the real importance of manufacturing into the conversation, to remind and reinvigorate and re-inspire. To point out what may or should seem obvious.

Like the wheel, many of us have taken and continue to take manufacturing’s extraordinary value to our nation, our economy, and our competitiveness for granted. We should know better by now.

We often allow the anti-manufacturing classes to dominate and distort the debate over US manufacturing’s future. They’ve been misled into underestimating the importance of something they can’t or won’t see. They need our help to understand those extraordinary values in real terms they can process.

Challenge them – every chance you get – to take some time to think about manufacturing and to envision its value.

And to consider that manufacturing is the wheel they’ve overlooked.

AJ Sweatt
  1. In complete agreement that technology has created a natural disconnection from the process of manufacturing. And we should look at the importance of manufacturing’s future. At the same time, we’re at a crossroads where we have (as a global community) recognized the importance of sustainability. I think it’s up to those of us in the industry to see how we can continue to integrate practices of sustainability while keeping manufacturing efficient and strong.

    • Chris, I’m actually encouraged by the elevation of manufacturing in our national debate these days. But we need more than talk, and that goes for sustainability (and trade) too.

  2. I look at this from a slightly different angle AJ. I read somewhere that “the more you know about something, the more you will marvel at it.” In my opinion, that is why you and I marvel at this thing called “manufacturing.”

    The real trouble is (again, in my opinion) that too many people no longer understand or marvel at manufacturing because they have NEVER been involved in it and don’t have an understanding of it.

    It may well be that we are talking about two different subsets of people but we can certainly agree that the problem is a sad one for the US nonetheless.

    • Great point, Jim. While I allude to it here you’ve done a wonderful job of distilling another of the ‘thousand cuts.’ And I don’t think there are 2 (or more) subsets of people – I think think the one subset suffers from multiple blind spots coming from different sources. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, man.

  3. Amen brother. I spend a great deal of time educating about the importance of manufacturing and the career possibilities for our youth. Many are disconnected as to what 21st century manufacturing looks like and what a strong manufacturing base means to the economy.

  4. Great Discussion AJ!

    I too have been encouraged over the last 5-10 years of the “wake up” that many people are experiencing in the U.S. in regards to the importance of manufacturing. The shift is quite positive, but we have a ways to go and need to keep up the efforts.

    Another way to do this is for manufacturers to host Open Houses to let people “see” from the “inside” what it is we are talking about.
    I hope many manufacturers decide to host some sort of event on October 4th “National Manufacturers Day”. Go to http://www.MfgDay.com for more info.


  5. Made in America is a statement that can be described in many ways.

    American made products are desired all around the world.

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    I’ve been creating and making things all My life so I had to create my own products.

    I saw many things around that to me needed to be changed.

    Now that I have made those ideas into real products I know that It’s still possible to manufacture products in America and make a difference.

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    If you want something better you can get it in America!

    “It’s about time you got what you wanted”


    I will do My part and continue to produce products Made only in America.

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