From the Shop Floor — The Week in Manufacturing (12/15/2012)

Writing in the Tacoma News-TribuneBill Virgin says that Apple could prove to be the start of a renewed focus on U.S. manufacturingHarvard Business School professor Gary Pisano, meanwhile, asks much the same thing.

Nike, like Apple, a company whose cache took a big hit as the magnitude of its commitment to offshore production began to make more and more headlines, is likewise pondering some level of expansion which may or may not lead to re-shoring at least some of its manufacturingfunctions back to the U.S.

Oil prices continue to creep upward as the news on China’s manufacturing recovery continues to roll in.  U.S. stock prices are following suit.

Speaking of recoveries, U.S. manufacturing seems to have rebounded from its little Sandy-induced flu bug of last month.  And the Christmas season notwithstanding, factories are currently humming along at an 8-month high.

Taking a contrarian’s view, after five years of carrying the U.S. economy on its back, Bloomburg’s Matthew Philips says that U.S. manufacturing may already be in a recession.

In light of the increasing price of earth-based fossil fuels, and perhaps — or should I say, no doubt — in fear of America’s growing fascination with more sustainable and renewable energy sources, the chemical industry akes a moment to remind us that shale gas is the key to a U.S. manufacturing recovery

(And while I’m at it, let me just say that when I clicked on the link above I found myself reminded once again of the disingenuous way the American chemical industry tries to foist itself off as being all in on sustainability and eco-friendliness.  Granted, this site above is for a trade pub as opposed to the industry itself, but its primary readership, focus, and concerns are the men and women of the chemical industry.  And to that end, Mr. Publisher, really?  A site extolling the virtues of your industry whose primary color is green? What not at least red, white and blue?  Then at least those in your choir with a conscience, and those of us who hold the interests of the planet and the interests of many of the companies you represent in roughly equal light, could at least come to grips with some of the hypocricy and reconcile ourselves to supporting at least some of what you stand for.  As it is, by hiding behind your thinly veiled shroud of environmental concern and compassion, all your industry does  is end up looking some combination of silly and deceitful.)

Whatever you do, do not miss this James Fallows piece in the latest issue of The Atlantic, on how, at least when it comes to manufacturing, technology is blowing the winds of change back in our direction.

And while you’re at it, you might also want to make sure you read this insightful Q&A that Bloomburg’s Josh Tyrangiel did with Steve Jobs’ hand-picked successor at Apple, Tim Cook.

And speaking of Apple, the Buffalo News says that if the computer giant does indeed start shifting some its manufacturing functions back from China to the U.S., many in the Empire State would likely bend over backwards to accommodate at least some of that relocation.

To that end, one New York-based start-up, Maker’s Row, is helping accommodate those hoping to navigate the often muddy roads that lead to the finding of a U.S.-based manufacturer.

While it has been a period of adjustment and tempered growth for our sector as a whole, manufacturing technology orders are actually up for the year, and by a meaningful degree.

Blogger Timothy Taylor, who calls himself the Conversable Economist, helps if not burst the bubble, than at least impart a layer of reason onto so many of the statistics quoted by so many labor leaders on how vastly more productive American workers are than their counterparts across the globe.  Don’t get me wrong, the American factory and shop workers I know are amazingly talented and hard-working.  But I’ve always been a bit leery about all those statistics that show these people as vastly more productive than workers in countries like, say, Germany and Brazil.

And finally, yet one more moment of insight from a recent roundtable on U.S. manufacturing, sponsored by the Brookings Institution.  This one from Thea Lee, policy director of the AFL-CIO, who speaks about some of the bigger issues impacting American labor and the international job market.  Good stuff. 

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