Manufacturings resurgence is essential

August 3, 2009
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As business owners begin to see the light at the end of the recession tunnel, it is universally greeted with “cautious optimism,” a term this metropolitan area believes it invented. Especially gratifying, as the Business Journal reports on the area economy, is a renewed resolve in retooling of the area’s legendary manufacturers.

What is disheartening is the survey by Deloitte LLP and the Manufacturing Institute, which showed the youngest group of workers, ages 18 to 24, do not understand the importance of  manufacturing to the overall economy, nor what modern technology manufacturing looks like. Another finding is that 61 percent of the respondents believe schools are not encouraging such careers, which is certain to leave a vacuum of these skilled trades in the very near future, even as this economic sector rights itself. The situation must be addressed before Michigan’s recession is prolonged even further for lack of education, trained employees and recruitment issues.

The survey found that young students — and their parents — believe future careers are best paid by the service sector, despite the fact that federal bailouts of banks and financial institutions were far more grave than that of two of the Detroit Three. The fact is that the service sector will disappear almost altogether unless Americans are making something to provide the payments to take to banks, invest in companies or audit.

The question is not whether manufacturing will “come back”; it is a question of how it has changed as part of the economic diversity and whether its backbone will remain in Michigan — or end up in Texas, along with Comerica Bank’s new headquarters.

The national chairman of the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association is Kentwood’s Braun Machinery’s General Manager Joe Braun, who capably describes what has evolved in the manufacturing sector: “Technology is the key to the future, not cheap labor.” And: “What Americans do best is software. We write the best software in the world” for manufacturing technology. (See story on page 13.) Braun also notes that the university system in Michigan offers world class manufacturing programs, another strength for this state. Braun is witnessing the beginnings of growth in defense, medical product, energy and new technology manufacturing as area companies diversify.

Automotive still has a home here. In conversation with Jeff Lambert announcing the acquisition of John Bailey & Associates in Detroit, the managing partner of Michigan’s largest investor and public relations firm said he was especially pleased to be part of Bailey’s extensive automotive experience. “This acquisition is a clear endorsement of JB&A’s world-class automotive experience and our willingness to invest in and be a part of the resurgence of the automotive market — the ultimate global industry and consumer product.”

Nationally acclaimed author James Harbour (“Factory Man,” 2009) was the first U.S. expert to study Toyota’s operations in Japan and ring the alarm bells in the Big Three offices (though to what avail is now obvious). Harbour notes in the epilogue of his book that Congress and the White House also have to face up to schizophrenic government policies and trade issues, while actually admitting the importance of manufacturing in this country. Harbour’s arguments are powerful, using Caterpillar and Harley Davidson for a federal focus on new manufacturing, especially considering such advantages recognized by national governments in Europe, Japan, Korea and China. He notes that as a result, Boeing’s new Dreamliner aircraft will be made in Japan and Italy.

The continued path out of this recession is to make something, and get government out of the way of doing so.

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