Media coverage of manufacturing has become Groundhog Day, a series of recurring headlines and stories as unpleasant for manufacturers as it was for Phil Connors, the Bill Murray character who relived the film's titular holiday again and again until he got it right. It's a relentless loop of bad press that in one week last month included such stories as Can US Manufacturing Be Made Great Again? and Opinion: Manufacturing needs a rebrand, as well as the headline that's now run through consecutive administrations: Can President Trump bring back manufacturing jobs? Apparently, we have none left.
But among the missives was this short, upbeat Huffington Post headline: Manufacturing Is A Job Multiplier. The multiplier effect is the go-to defense for manufacturing advocates. We know it well.
The author, Jerry Jasinowski, a former president of the National Association of Manufacturers, shared this nugget.
Long ago when I was President of the National Association of Manufacturers, we got word that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had redefined manufacturing employment to exclude the clerks, accountants, sales staff and others who worked for manufacturing companies but were not actively engaged in making things. Overnight, the data showed an abrupt decline of about 1.5 million manufacturing jobs.
We've lamented this outcome before. Today, what Jasinowski describes is common practice. Meaning that contract design and engineering jobs at a satellite manufacturer aren't counted as manufacturing jobs, though the positions wouldn't exist without the product, the fabrication. As Jasinowski notes, the slight has become more pronounced in today's high-tech sector:
The BLS ruling . . . is even more erroneous today in light of dramatic changes in the way modern manufacturing operates. Because of technological changes manufacturing is becoming a hybrid powerhouse that combines manufacturing and services -- blurring the traditional distinction between the two. As manufactured products become more complex and high tech, they are giving rise to a host of skilled positions in areas long deemed non-manufacturing -- such as logistics and transportation, customer service, technical support, regulatory and safety specialists, and distribution employees trained in the use of information driven tools for receiving, storing and packing. The list goes on.
There are other implications. An extension of this methodology is to treat manufacturing as a separate industry. It’s now common practice. Last week Debra Borchardt of Forbes wrote that Marijuana Industry Projected To Create More Jobs Than Manufacturing By 2020. It doesn't occur to Borchardt that many of the marijuana-related jobs she references will be in manufacturing. More jobs for manufacturing is accurate.
Of course the "manufacturing industry" isn't separate at all from industries like aerospace, or cannabis, or other high-growth sectors like food and beverage, bioscience, or the outdoor industry. Manufacturing is a catalyst in these sectors. Colorado is the epicenter of the natural and organic food ecosystem in part because of a manufacturing innovation -- co-packers.
We're witnessing more manufacturing-related innovation driving industry growth today, in nominations for the Colorado Manufacturing Awards. It's a firehose of new ideas and creativity. Is there any doubt one or more will emerge to reshape entire industry sectors?
Far from the staid sector that struggles to capture the imagination of the national business media, local and regional manufacturers have not only made American manufacturing great again, they're creating a new brand in the process, a brand inspired by innovation and technology that's creating thousands of related service and supply-chain jobs.
The national media and those who would measure and promote manufacturing would do well to learn a new language, as Phil Connors did, that speaks to the progress and promise of the sector.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.