I look back on my column from a year ago -- CompanyWeek at two years: Six takeaways as manufacturing surges -- and grimace. I've learned so much in a year.
With that in mind, as CompanyWeek begins year four, here are six new takeaways based on a fresh look at last year's conclusions and what I got wrong - and right.
Last year's takeaway: 1. Manufacturing's cross-industry comeback continues unabated.
Today it would be more accurate to say that productivity growth continues unabated, though some industries are faring better than others.
As we've chronicled all year, food and beverage manufacturing is the fastest growing sector in the state, confirmed again last week by the Denver Business Journal. Aerospace and bioscience manufacturing, transformed by technology and benefitting from Colorado’s rich innovation ecosystem, are equally dynamic. The seeds of a true American manufacturing comeback in outdoor gear and accessories is also germinating, but supply-chain challenges are a drag on what otherwise is promising long term prospects for more Colorado-made products.
Manufacturers wed to energy or growth in overseas markets are more challenged. Consumer products made here face stiff competition from global competitors, who still manufacture less expensively. Workforce continues to be a barrier for others.
But despite these headline-grabbing challenges, manufacturing is a new regional economic force, with consumers driving innovation on one hand, and automation and high-tech fabrication reshaping the sector on the other.
So here's the new takeaway: It's not all roses, but manufacturing's new look is manifest in Colorado and the West.
Last year: 2. Public and private sector support isn't keeping pace with manufacturing's advance.
Last year I bemoaned the spotty understanding of manufacturing among those who report on economy or provide development services often using taxpayer dollars. The business press is still maddeningly uninformed; witness the hyperventilating last week about the PMI falling under 50 for the first time in six months.
But manufacturers are changing the perception of the sector by reshoring jobs whenever possible and creating a new era of U.S. competitiveness. Development of the supply chain is critical. The revelation is that we don't fully understand what supply chain development means.
New takeaway: It's cool to be a manufacturer again, but as the supply chain goes, so goes manufacturing.
Last year: 3. Manufacturing should be a 'Key Industry' in a simplified economic Blueprint.
Last year I argued that dropping 'Advanced' and listing 'Manufacturing' as a key industry sector would shine a well-deserved light on all manufacturing and simplify access to a confusing system. It's still a good idea. We learned last week that Government Workers Now Outnumber Manufacturing Workers by 9,932,000. Manufacturers need less blueprints, associations, new designations, and taxpayer-funded bureaucracies.
Today manufacturers are quick to advocate smaller government and less regulation. We're less enthusiastic about rolling back a raft of taxpayer-funded subsidies, awards, and grants coursing the system, many without accountability that seperates worthy investments from well-intentioned spending.
New takeaway: Less regulation or more public-sector programs? Which will you have?
Last year: 4. Congressional inaction in support of manufacturing is a travesty.
Elected officials do less and campaign more. As we lower our public-policy standards, it's important we ramp up private sector efforts to get important things done.
Beyond that, it's up to local officials to lead. Want to get in the manufacturing game? Develop a small business ecosystem friendly for startups and supply-chain infrastructure that sustains maker-business growth.
New takeaway: Work through the private sector to get things done -- and go directly to voters with key issues like infrastructure.
Last year: 5. Where robust support has developed, it now must evolve.
See all of the above. Manufacturing growth hinges most on private/public collaboration around supply chain development.
One other tactic worth a big mention: Brands making things here still face consumer resistance on price. For many maker businesses, it's still more expensive to make things in the U.S. Colorado's marketing messages should evolve to support brands operating here. Raise the profile of Colorado-made products. Borrow a few dollars from tourism's massive war chest to fund a national campaign about the high-quality, authentic products made here. Don't add to the ad spend; refine it on behalf of industry.
New takeaway: Use Colorado's strong tourism brand to better promote the state as a destination for lifestyle manufacturing.
Last year: 6. Manufacturers must agree on the way forward -- one that involves a bigger tent.
Last year this column was a call for recognition of the sector. Things have changed: manufacturing's profile is higher, it's companies and leaders now the topic of conversation statewide and focus of more media coverage.
It's time to play the role of leading economic driver and ask less of government, trade, and those we elect. Let's put campaigning and campaign promises behind us.
New takeaway: 2017 is the year of the private sector -- the year of the manufacturer.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.