Viewpoints: Manufacturing Deserves to be Celebrated
By Louis A. Martin-Vega, FSME
Dean of Engineering
North Carolina State University
By Terri Helmlinger Ratcliff
Assistant Vice Chancellor and Executive Director
of the Industrial Extension Service
North Carolina State University
For too long, manufacturing’s vital role in our nation’s economy has been misunderstood, downplayed, or even ignored. Occasionally politicians or the media pay short-term attention to manufacturing, when it suits their own agendas, but that kind of attention is not always positive. As a result, those who understand the tremendous benefits of manufacturing and the devastating effects that industrial neglect, foreign competition, and corporate outsourcing have had often feel like prophets "crying in the wilderness," desperate for people to listen. Silence, however is not a viable option.
In North Carolina, we have seen our manufacturing base dwindle, but we are not alone: even though we are the third-most-manufacturing-dependent state in the country, we know that every state and nearly every community’s manufacturers have suffered, especially in recent years. Even so, we also know that manufacturing is the engine that drives every modern economy. Where would we be without manufacturing? In a very dark age.
Some of us have taken it upon ourselves to sing the praises of manufacturing, and the modern miracles of turning raw materials into finished goods. One way we have done that in North Carolina is through the Manufacturing Makes It Real (MMIR) Network.
The Industrial Extension Service—the outreach arm of the NC State University College of Engineering—is entering the second year of our MMIR Network. The network grew out of a five-day, 1100-mile tour we took in 2010 to a dozen sites around the state, where companies large and small came out to celebrate the work they do and the products they make. MMIR Tour sponsors provided a tractor-trailer that we outfitted into a rolling museum of Made in North Carolina products. At the tour’s end, we held a rally at the state Legislative Building and symbolically presented the collection to the state Secretary of Commerce.
During the tour, manufacturers told great stories about their pride in their people and their products, their appreciation for their customers, and what it takes to survive and even thrive in tough economic times. We heard from companies that had brought back manufacturing work from overseas, some that were breaking into new markets around the world, and others that were just happy to find someone to recognize and appreciate them for a change. And the companies wanted it to continue: at every stop, someone asked, "When are you going to do this again?"
Based on that success, and to continue telling the manufacturing story, in 2011 we developed the MMIR Network. We developed a set of benefits for network members, and held events at member facilities in each of the state’s seven economic development regions. Just like the Manufacturing Makes It Real Tour, the highlight of each network event is when the manufacturers stand up to present what they make and express their pride of workmanship. But the MMIR Network’s larger impact has come through business-to-business connections between companies. We have seen companies find new local suppliers and form relationships with nearby firms that they never knew existed.
We look forward to growing the Manufacturing Makes It Real Network and expanding its influence in the state. We continue to refine the membership benefits, and we are very pleased that almost 95% of the companies that joined the network in its first year said they will continue as network members this year.
Furthermore, we believe the overall network model can be adapted almost anywhere, because companies everywhere have good stories to tell. Manufacturers have been treated poorly over the years—blamed for economic disruptions, vilified for ecological damage and all too often resented when they achieved success—and it is past time to recognize their remarkable achievements and their positive impacts on our communities.
We chose the name Manufacturing Makes It Real because we wanted to emphasize that we are concerned with people creating real things that add real value and make a real difference in the world. The simple truth is that people need things—tangible goods that fulfill specific needs and purposes—and in most cases only manufacturers make the things people need. Manufacturing deserves to be celebrated, and we are proud to help. ME
This article was first published in the July 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.