Limited view of technology stymies manufacturing

December 19, 2011
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As the year ends, the Business Journal notes the quandary put upon us by the talking heads who spent the better part of the Great Recession damning all things manufacturing and pouring salt into Michigan’s deep roots in this sector. The “technical” age was somehow misconstrued to mean growth would only come from the service sector, which did indeed grow … to feed the manufacturing gains made in the first seven years of this millennium. Never mind that the largest cause of the Great Recession was seeded in the service sector.

Now then, behold a great dearth of skilled and trained workers who are able to assist those business owners in advancement. Manufacturing businesses across the state (and across the nation) now are stymied in their growth by a lack of such skills.

In the past few weeks, great symposiums (one led by University of Michigan) and press conferences (including that of The Right Place and the Upjohn Institute) note the increasing frustration of manufacturers in finding such talent, from anywhere in the USA. The lament is shared across the nation.

The push of public sector individuals calling an immediate halt on emphasis of all things “made” and full bore toward “diversifying regional economies” met squarely head-to-head with those who make things and have not stopped, no matter what a bureaubrat thinks. The underlying issue is with those whose blinders created a limited view of “technology” as all things related to the Internet. In truth, it is displayed best by the budding powerhouses in our midst given to creation, design and making of advanced energy systems and alternative energy systems. Those systems are now the future of the automotive industry, and the building blocks for yet another generation of manufacturing advancement is upon us.

But the words from those denizens of misery and mistake have taken a toll in the form of perceptions that rob a generation of the richness of such advancement. University of Michigan researchers proclaimed last week that an advanced manufacturing work force remains one of the biggest challenges facing America today.

Prior to the start of his press conference to announce 2012 projections, Upjohn Institute senior regional analyst George Erickcek noted last week (as have other Michigan regional economic analysts) that the sector assisting Michigan’s economy is — automotive; in fact, it is considered “the key driver.” (See the story on page 14.) Research underpinning the Upjohn projections for 2012 shows continued growth for Michigan’s economy in the auto sector.

Erickcek opined with a laugh: “Remember that foolish talk about diversification? Thankfully, we didn’t go down that road.” (“We” in this regard is directly defined as the owners and executives who continued to mind their manufacturing businesses, not the bureaubrats.)

The immediate issue for 2012 and beyond is how to fix those perceptions regurgitated by the talking heads.

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