US manufacturing is undergoing a resurgence, just without the jobs reports the New York Times in its story on the textile mills of South Carolina.
The decline and recovery of US manufacturing is a story of our times – the industrialisation of Asia, trade treaties such as NAFTA and China’s joining the World Trade Organisation all saw Western producers move their operations overseas.
A weakness with that business model are the extended global supply chains as goods spend months on ships following long manufacturing and design lead times, the exact opposite of what modern consumers are looking for.
Coupled with domestic manufacturers’ increased investment in automated systems which makes labour costs a smaller factor and the sums start adding up for making things in the United States.
Unfortunately for the workforce, those automated plants don’t require anywhere near the staff older factories employed and the skills required in today’s mills are substantially different from those needed in those of earlier times.
Most industries are encountering the same change and new technologies make the modern factory very different to that of a few decades ago.
The jobs aren’t going to come back in the numbers that were once employed, as the New York Times story illustrates with the decline in the working population.
Despite the recovery in US manufacturing, today’s industry is very different to what it was last century, something that’s missed by those advocating a return 1950s style government policies to protect jobs in sectors like car manufacturing.
Even if they are successful in rejuvenating local car factories, cotton mills or coal mines, the days of these plants employing tens of thousands of grateful cloth capped workers are over.
Those politicians whose ideology is based on the old model, or businesspeople who want to work in the old ways, are going to find the modern economy very difficult and challenging.