Manufacturing remains essential to the United States economy, but like most industries, it's experienced its fair share of setbacks in recent years. One of the primary issues the sector has had to deal with is that the global procurement landscape has undergone considerable changes since the turn of the century, and many of these developments have picked up speed in the last five years. Companies began moving to offshore manufacturing - a type of outsourcing specific to the industry - in order to meet the challenges of an economically difficult period that required firms to cut costs wherever possible.
Outsourcing is, of course, a contentious topic, but regardless of one's take on the issue, one thing remains clear: Manufacturing in the U.S. has to adapt to the changes in the production supply chain or risk falling behind the offshore competition. The worst course of action would be for domestic manufacturers to simply pretend as if the trends weren't happening.
Luckily, that's not at all the choice that U.S. companies have made. The signs are looking up for nearshore manufacturing. However, firms have had to change with the times in order to find a niche in the current market.
A different kind of labor
The need for small, sustainable production is one that U.S. manufacturers are particularly well poised to meet. In a column for Manufacturing.net, Global Supply Chain Solutions President Philip Odette discussed the increasing emphasis being placed on skilled labor. He noted that in light of emerging factors - not the least of which is a global shift in consumer purchasing habits - economic regrowth promises new opportunities for manufacturing in the U.S.
"The only thing missing is enough skilled workers to maintain the momentum," Odette wrote.
The sector's renaissance in America stands in contrast to other Western nations. According to the Financial Times, new data from the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics revealed that manufacturing fell from 18.7 percent of the UK's total economic output in 1997 to 10.3 in 2011.
Odette noted that a partnership between the National Association of Manufacturers and GE Appliances CEO Chip Blankenship seeks to ensure that through technology, the U.S. can capitalize on the potential for continued growth.
"One of the biggest focuses will be encouraging students to study technology that relates to manufacturing and engineers. The U.S. can become a hub of innovation for developing and building the robots that may operate the manufacturing lines of tomorrow," Odette noted.
And with more of an emphasis on skilled production, small business manufacturing is likely to play a more integral role as well.