As this magazine marks its 50th year in print, we explore how U.S. manufacturing has changed over this last half century. The trends are dramatic and (despite current economic woes) encouraging as well.
If only it were as simple as “Buy American.” In today’s complex, global, and interconnected economy, it’s just not that easy. One look at the automotive supply chain is a testament to the new facts of life regarding American manufacturing. For example, many “foreign” cars are now built in the U.S., using components from U.S. suppliers, and employing thousands of U.S. citizens at livable wages. An example detailed in The Association for Manufacturing Technology’s (AMT) 2007 report, U.S. Manufacturing: Challenges and Opportunities, relates how the state of Alabama gave Mercedes Benz $1 billion in tax abatements to build a facility in Tuscaloosa in 1992. Over the next 10 years, Alabama lost 100,000 textile jobs, but gained 87,000 auto manufacturing jobs. The only “losers” in this scenario were other states, notably those in the North and upper Midwest.
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he AMT report goes on to confront several misperceptions about U.S. manufacturing, and is worth reading in its entirety. (See online resources box.) One trend worth noting is that as of October 2007, 72% of manufacturing job losses in the U.S. during the previous five years were the result of productivity improvements; in fact, nine of the 10 largest industrialized economies in the world – including China – lost manufacturing jobs for this reason.