Issues remain for U.S. manufacturers, but opportunities abound, according to economic futurist Jeff Thredgold.
In a column for mfrtech.com headlined “U.S. Manufacturing ... Pain & Promise,” Thredgold cites a number of statistics that point to the rebound — and continued importance — of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
Thredgold wrote: “It might surprise you that the U.S. continues to lead the world in manufacturing output. We produce more than the Chinese, the Japanese, the Germans, etc. U.S. output exceeds that of China by 40 percent.
“It might surprise you that the U.S. share of global manufacturing output, at 20 25 percent, is essentially the same as it was 40 years ago.
“It might surprise you that output per U.S. worker is three times what it was in 1980 and twice as high as it was in 1990.”
Yes, despite all the talk about service jobs and a post-industrial economy, Thredgold says manufacturing is still important. And it's making a comeback.
U.S. manufacturing employment actually rose by 136,000 net new jobs during 2010, he said, the first annual increase since 1997.
And the trend seems to be ongoing. In January, the U.S. added another 49,000 manufacturing jobs, the largest monthly gain in 12 years.
The recovering economy is just part of the story.
• The U.S. automotive sector — still a cornerstone in the industrial sector — is back from the brink of disaster.
• Despite all the talk about low-cost plastics feedstocks elsewhere, global events in the past few weeks once again have hammered home that relative political stability in North America has some real advantages over cheap Btu in the Middle East.
• Inflationary trends are beginning to catch up to manufacturers in China. (This is a good thing, by the way — it's a sign that standards of living are improving, largely thanks to capitalism.)
• Nearly all the surviving North American manufacturers are lean and mean and in a good position to compete in the global arena.
Manufacturing is on the upswing. It's offering opportunities again, for investors, entrepreneurs, skilled workers and young people getting ready to enter the workforce.
Plastic part could save 1.5B gallons of fuel
Most industries are short-sighted. They put off investing in products that could save energy, even when the payoff is proven and relatively fast.
Case in point, the trucking industry. According to a report from Climatewire, the Department of Energy claims that if every long-haul truck in America would install a set of plastic fairings in front of the wheels under the trailer, it would cut fuel use 7-12 percent.
That would save 1.5 billion gallons of fuel a year.
The fuel savings would pay for the part within six to 18 months, according to Mitch Greenberg, president of SmartTruck, one of the Greenville, S.C., companies that developed the product.
Loepp is Plastics News managing editor and author of “The Plastics Blog.”