UpFront: Mapping Manufacturing's High Road
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
Given all the brainpower at work in manufacturing, this industry can—and should—be advocating for its revitalization in a smarter fashion.
Now, we finally have some tools to do just that.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the May 9 report from Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution (http://tinyurl.com/mebrookingsreport) offers the first comprehensive analysis ever of the metropolitan geography of US manufacturing. It paints an authoritative, data-backed map of what manufacturing looks like across America today, and uses its findings to recommend some smart, new approaches to bolster manufacturing.
Despite losing 8 million manufacturing jobs over the past three decades, the report found that the share of manufacturing jobs actually grew in the largest metro areas. In fact, "more metropolitan areas depended on manufacturing as part of their economic base in 2010 than in 1980," the report states. Metros contained nearly 80% of manufacturing jobs in 2010.
What’s more, those metros have become increasingly specialized around one of six broad manufacturing specialties. Data on individual metros can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mebrookingsdata. The report suggests that this clustering should lead to policy approaches guided by specialty and metro regions.
Most metropolitan manufacturing plants are small, with an average of about 57 workers. This matters not just because a lot of policy attention is given to big facilities, but also because of a growing phenomenon called "phoenix industries." High-tech small- and medium-sized manufacturers that are emerging from the "ashes" of former manufacturing titans. This suggests that more policy attention should be geared to supporting smaller manufacturers.
Ultimately, the report says its findings call for "high-road" policies to bolster US manufacturing, as opposed to the low-road approach where manufacturers chase low wages and big incentives. High-road policies, the report says, "require a federal platform that is sensitive to the ways in which manufacturing differs geographically…This policy prescription differs from the general business attraction incentives that have dominated state and local economic development policy. These incentives (which cost state and local treasuries $70 billion annually) are problematic because they reduce the revenue available to fund investments in training and technology—investments that are essential to a high-road approach."
While the high road might be the road less traveled, it might also be the road that makes all the difference.
This article was first published in the July 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.