From the Shop Floor — The Week in Manufacturing (5/4/2012)

For those of you who happened to miss it, I urge you to read by my post this week on what The Economist is calling the Third Industrial Revolution, as well as their piece on the phenomenon driving the train:  digital manufacturing and its oh-so-sexy kissin’ cousin, 3D printing.

Bloomburg says this week’s ISM report on manufacturing activity for the month of April proved to be a real shot in the arm for Wall Street.  Meanwhile, in much of the consumer press — in this particular case, the Washington Post — manufacturing’s continued growth and steady climb took a back seat to the kind of reporting that sells, and the news that the service sector had grown at a lesser rate than had been expected. 

(Despite the fact that the U.S. service sector had grown for what turned out to be, remarkably, the 28th consecutive month.)

Which, as a quick aside, has truly led me to rethink my position on expectations for our economy going forward, as outlined in a post a week or so ago on the current Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman

Maybe it’s not those of us in the general public who need to wake up to the realities of the new world economy and to temper our expectations and redefine normal; maybe it’s the financial and market analysts who need to do that. 

After all, the media will always report the news in the most likely-to-sell-papers and most likely-to-drive-advertising sort of way.  But Wall Street and market analysts continue to use metrics which more and more seem to be hopelessly outmoded.

Maybe it’s them, not us, who need to re-calibrate their expectations. 

We’re growing as an economy, and U.S. manufacturing is recovering in a way that can no longer be described, even by a cynic, as “slowly.”  Yet that reality somehow seems to remain lost on so many market analysts and so-called “experts”, who I can’t help but feel are a little like students trying to ready themselves for the real world by using textbooks which grow more outdated by the day.

But back to the news. 

Bloomburg also tells us that one of the most exciting new developments in the energy sector is not doing as well as one might expect.  According to the news service, fracking is flopping overseas.

And speaking of rising stock prices, China Daily reports that positive manufacturing number in both the U.S. and China worked like a little blue pill on a number of Asian stocks.

Along those lines, a publication called The Asset, reports that China’s manufacturing sector is starting to look revitalized.

Richard Read of the Oregonian reports that, despite a lot of hue and cry on the part of both the U.S. solar power industry and a number of domestic legislators with solar panel factories in their back yards, China is preparing to further subsidize its solar panel manufacturers in the country’s apparently never-ending battle to dominate the global market for the things.

Here’s a piece by noted author and economist Ian Fletcher that is a bit cryptic, but makes a couple of interesting points in calling for a national network of manufacturing innovation.  Fletcher’s politics may not mesh with your own, and his arguments may be a bit dense to economic laymen like you and me.  But he makes a number of interesting points, including the fact that, politics aside, “jobs creation” is not really a strategy, and that the private equity system we now utilize to fund start up companies is a short-term proposition designed not so much to engender innovation, as harvest it.

The Wall Street Journal blogs that while things may have slowed a bit in my hometown of Chicago, the prospects for manufacturing in the rest of the country remain bright.

Blogger Mark Perry offers some nice factual nuggets on the recovery of manufacturing in the Rust Belt.

And finally, the Made in America team from ABC News offers this uplifting video story on what the return of manufacturing continues to mean to many small towns in this country, and what one small town has done to make it happen.  Enjoy.

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