5/20/2009 | 3 MINUTE READ

How Success Happens

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Manufacturing can survive and remain a vital cog in our economy, but it takes hard work…



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All too often lately, I sense a feeling of entitlement in some areas of manufacturing.

I know how that sounds—U.S. manufacturers rightly feel they’ve been bludgeoned throughout the past 20 years or so by government trade policies, along with a shifting perception in our culture that a career in manufacturing is in some way less-than-noble, not lucrative and unrewarding.

There are some small-to-medium manufacturers I talk to that say things are hopeless. They tell me their industry and government have abandoned them, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

In the past week in the media, I’ve seen two examples of what I think are brilliant stories of the U.S. manufacturing community rallying to preserve and sustain its viability. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that not only are they inspirational and uplifting—they also represent what manufacturers around the world will eventually have to wrestle with as markets shift, trade policies and channels are refined, and new economies and markets emerge.

Here’s my take on those two great examples:

The Cradle of Tool and Die. The "Wall Street Journal" recently published a story titled "Joy in Meadville," a brief study of the Pennsylvania town that is considered the birthplace of America’s tool and die industry. The story got my attention because I recently spoke to a few shop owners in Meadville, and I had heard from them the same cautious optimism displayed in the article.

What has Meadville a bit more confident than other U.S. manufacturers is the combination of moving into growth businesses and markets and creation of a technical school by the local business community and government that helps to provide new employees for Meadville’s shops and plants.

In the article, one shop owner says 10 years ago automotive work accounted for 80 percent of his business. Now, that number is only 5 percent, since he moved his business into medical and aerospace—more profitable and sustainable markets. While he says business is down overall, these moves set his business up to enjoy less of a downturn than his competitors.

Also, Meadville’s technical school not only provides programs that help to sustain the local workforce; it also gives access to its high tech equipment to smaller manufacturers, allowing them to compete for higher-tolerance, more profitable work.

(To read the article, Google "Joy in Meadville," and be sure to check out the slideshow that accompanies the piece.)

Inspired Training. NBC News recently aired a story shot in March at S.C. Manufacturing, a shop in Akron, Ohio, that works in tandem with the local Akron CNC Training Center (www.akroncnc.com) to provide CNC machining skills training to local students.

That seems like pretty standard stuff, I know. But in my view, S.C. Manufacturing has gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing its workers free mentoring services for these students and offering access to its facilities as a place to learn and train.

I was inspired by S.C.’s message—that giving back to its community and the industry was a responsibility not taken lightly. And I wonder, "What if all shops took such a strong step toward nurturing our own and helping laid-off workers and young people through tangible efforts like these."

Yes, We Can. To me, both of these stories reinforce the importance of embracing change rather than being victims of it. In the face of global recession, governmental and cultural indifference, and shifting markets, these communities and the heroes in them are taking action and creating opportunity where most would expect little to exist.

Manufacturing can survive and remain a vital cog in our economy, but it takes hard work and an acceptance of and commitment to change. However, it can be done.

Maybe your company or community is making the same sort of investment in the success and future of manufacturing. If so, I’d love to hear your story. Contact me, and let me hear about it.