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Sun Sets on Manufacturing Dominance, But Where Will It Rise?

By: Lou Kren

Monday, September 01, 2008
 
As a college graduation gift, my mom gave me a copy of Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess. Many will argue that this cartoon book was my mom’s comment on my skill set at that time, but I’d like to think that it was a pat on the back, a kick in the butt and an introduction to a big, new, scary world, filled with pitfalls and promise. Looking back, it is hands-down the best book I’ve ever read—an admonition to stop reading tales of other lives led and a pep talk urging me to make my own . Reading it again, I notice a parallel to U.S. manufacturing—past, present and future.

Congratulations! Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and a!

By 1900, the United States was the industrial power of the world, wrestling that title from England. Ours was a nation of inventors, builders, makers and users. We had trouble dealing with each other, but we let the rest of the planet know they’d have to deal with us. Americans left the farms for the smokestacks. Plowing through two world wars and the Great Depression, this nation’s manufacturers brought us a level of prosperity in the second half of the 20th century unmatched in human history. We certainly were off and a.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

Nothing lasts forever, and for the past several years the United States has seen its manufacturing base erode. Countries across the globe have eagerly joined the manufacturing game, tooling up to serve their own growing economies, and looking to be low-cost providers to others’.

It has finally come to this: Global Insight, an economic consulting firm, has estimated that in 2009 China will account for 17 percent of world manufacturing value-added output, ahead of the United States at 16 percent. That is quite a shift from even 2007, when the United States boasted 20 percent of such output to China’s 13.2 percent. If the forecast holds true, for the first time in more than a century this country will trail in the manufacturing race.

The negative among us can look at this ranking and recall the riddle: What do second-place finishers and last-place finishers have in common? They’re both losers. That’s harsh, but it’s reality.

But on you will go though the weather be foul
On you will go though your enemies prowl

So here we are, poised to be runner-up. What now? The answer may lie in the past. Why not a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs that feeds the world a high-tech diet? I’ve read that prior to the Civil War, the U.S. Patent Office issued less than 1000 patents per year. From 1866 to 1900, that number increased to more than 20,000 annually. We need Edisons and Bells, Carvers and Einsteins. Technology breakthroughs propelled us before and can again, assuming that we can create an educated and excelling populace as well as the proper motivation to succeed. Or maybe there are other routes to continued prosperity. Whatever the path, Dr. Suess provides a push:

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So...be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting. So...get on your !

 


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