As we expand into California this week after telling the story of 700 or so manufacturing companies in Colorado, Utah, and across the region, it's a great opportunity for us to revisit why we launched CompanyWeek, and assess what we got right and wrong.
Reason #1: There's a renewed passion for making things, and companies are transforming entire industries.
What we saw: In Colorado and much of the West, a wave of companies is breaking all the rules about manufacturing. Natural and organic food brands, craft brewers and distillers, entrepreneurs in outdoor industry, engineers and designers in aerospace and bioscience, industrial upstarts rediscovering technology -- all, and at once, are transforming America's manufacturing brand.
What we got right: The wave shows no signs of cresting. Trends favor a continued renewal of domestic manufacturing.
What we got wrong: The Boston Consulting Group noted that, "The U.S. manufactures $3.4 trillion worth of goods annually, nearly three-quarters of what it consumes." Like everyone else, we called America's new focus on manufacturing a renaissance. It's more like an awakening, to new possibilities.
What we learned: For communities having success with manufacturing, industry clusters typically fuel supply-chain development that begets manufacturing. A lesson for developers: Decide what industries are a fit, and develop ecosystems to support and recruit companies. Boulder, Colorado, Ogden, Utah, and San Francisco are thriving manufacturing towns today because of cohesive industry strategies, around food, outdoor industry, and a thriving maker movement.
Reason #2: Powerful trends make the economics of American manufacturing increasingly competitive on the global stage.
What we saw: Companies are weary of managing global supply chains, especially with costs for overseas production on the rise. Today it's often as expensive to manage factories overseas as manufacture domestically.
What we got right: A new cost equilibrium will keep more manufacturing jobs here, or nearer-shored.
What we got wrong: The domestic supply chain continues to limit growth. Ready to scale an apparel brand and want to keep cut-and-make local? You'll search far and wide, and may near-shore, to Mexico, in lieu of a domestic manufacturer. We've not trained a new generation of apparel technicians, using the latest technology, in decades. We simply can't reshore or develop some manufacturing jobs.
What we learned: Today, early-stage brands favor local inspiration and production. Shorter supply chains are now brand objectives. Millennials don't want their food grown and shipped across entire oceans, or their favorite garment made for dollars-a-day labor.
Reason #3: Media have lost interest in manufacturing.
What we saw: Manufacturers lament the public's perception of their sector. They call it the "Four Ds": dirty, dumb, dying, and dangerous. It's far from that, but as companies turned overseas to make things, media tuned out.
What we got right: Business media still can't agree on the importance or significance of manufacturing -- whether it's a single industry or a service sector; whether a technology company that makes things (think Apple) is a tech brand or a manufacturing company; or if a thriving manufacturing economy alongside technology and service is integral to prosperity or not. Today, manufacturing bewilders business media.
What we got wrong: Media's important, but industry and other business stakeholders are the arbiters of manufacturing's success.
What we learned: It's manufacturing's responsibility to reimagine how the sector is perceived -- and where investments in the manufacturing brand must be made or reconsidered. Media's complicit in under-reporting the sector's far-reaching impact, but it's time for industry to make different decisions to promote its interests.
On that note, the best way to understand manufacturing is through its compelling companies and leaders. We'll publish a standalone California edition of CompanyWeek, and in every issue, we'll profile three of four of California's finest manufacturers. Their stories are the real narrative of a modern, transformative sector.
We'll do so monthly until the fall, when we'll publish every week. Here's why manufacturers in Colorado and Utah have come to value CompanyWeek.
Our journey in California begins this week.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.