From the Shop Floor — The Week in Manufacturing (8/30/2013)

China manufacturing showed a big turnaround last month, something that could mean better days ahead for that nation’s economy — and by extension the global marketplace, not to mention American manufacturers big and small.

And given that China is the world’s largest buyer of raw materials, that news sent mining stock prices soaring.

Count me among those who could help but feel a little bemused by Wal-Mart sponsoring a recent summit on U.S. manufacturing, at which company CEO got up and talked about the need for a strong middle class in America.  Because to read, see or hear any number of reports, there was perhaps no company in the U.S. putting more pressure on American manufacturers to lower prices than Wal-Mart, and no single company anywhere more responsible for triggering the boom in offshoring over the past two decades.

But that said, Wal-Mart and the National Retail Federation co-sponsored a summit on American manufacturing in Orlando last week, at which Bill Simon, the retail giant’s CEO, pledged to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S. made products over the next decade.  I’d like to know more, and remain skeptical, but just maybe after so many years of short-term, price-obsessed thinking, Wal-Mart has finally had some sort of come-to-Jesus moment and seen that in helping to drive so many small U.S. manufacturers either out of business or to the brink of bankruptcy, the company’s been doing little more than cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Wal-Mart’s suppliers at the same summit, meanwhile, committed to some $70 million in additional factory spending over the same time frame, while creating 1,000 new American jobs.  Again, those are just numbers, which can always be manipulated to say just about anything a good accountant desires.  But at least it’s a start, and gives us all reason for hope.

And speaking of both skeptics and Wal-Mart’s gathering in Central Florida, one (of I’m certain many) blogger chose to ponder; Was Wal-Mart’s manufacturing summit just a stunt?

Another reason your kids should consider a life in manufacturing;  a recent study showed that new-hires in manufacturing got paid more last year than new-hires in any other industry in America.

Speaking of which, recently sat down and served up five questions for a leading recruiter in the industrial sector, all of which dealt with how to find and retain top quality manufacturing workers.

Something calling itself the Institute for 21st Century Energy says U.S. energy risks are improving.

In the interest of representing a broad cross-spectrum of thoughts and ideas in this space, I feel compelled to include this item,  (And note, this is an idea which I proudly do not share.)  But an analyst with an online publication called the Wall Street Examiner contends that the U.S. manufacturing sector remains in (his words) a “slow motion collapse.”

On the opposite side of the coin, the American Made Movie publicity tour continued this past week, prompting MarketWatch, after having screened the film, to remind its readers that American manufacturing isn’t dead.

Always thought-provoking and occasionally contrarian in nature, the Atlantic offers the following:  What Gives American Factories their Competitive Edge: They’re Easy to Close.

I’ve linked to similar stories before, but this message bears repeating.  Three analysts at the Boston Consulting Group wonder if the skills gap in the U.S. workforce isn’t going to derail the American manufacturing renaissance.

You know you’ve really hit mainstream America once you’ve made the cover of Parade magazine.  And of America’s general interest publications, perhaps only Reader’s Digest is less cutting edge, more wholesome and more mainstream than the Sunday Parade.  That’s why I take more than a little pleasure in this week’s cover story on the comeback of American manufacturing, titled “Putting America Back to Work.”

Which leads me to my final thought prior to this holiday weekend. Congrats to all U.S. working men and women, and thank you for all you’ve done to make this country of ours the economic force it is today. Keep up the good work.  And however you’re going to spend it, have a happy Labor Day.





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