Jump on the manufacturing bandwagon -- or else!

By Bart Taylor | Jun 23, 2020


We're all righteous in our indignation.

Last April, after years of encouraging former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to lean on his industry experience to take up the cause for manufacturing, I gave up. At the time, Hickenlooper's presidential campaign, devoid of even a mention of his manufacturing experience, had crashed.

I lamented the missed opportunity: "John Hickenlooper was a craft-brewing pioneer. He helped reimagine craft manufacturing in Colorado and make it fashionable again, demonstrating its power to reshape urban economies, create opportunities for passionate entrepreneurs and reshape entire industry sectors. . . . I envisioned talk of the virtues of shortening supply chains to bring jobs home, of providing pathways for families and kids into the trade, and of a new economy where U.S.-engineered and -designed products are increasingly made here."

But I was wrong about Hickenlooper's affinity or connection with manufacturing. If not wrong, judgmental. Advocacy for manufacturing is a cause I share with some, but not everyone.

Today, candidate Hickenlooper harkens back to his "restaurant experience," not his beer-making chops, when talking of his business acumen. He identifies with his service background more than any manufacturing pedigree.

And that's OK. I look back on my rather harsh pronouncements and cringe a bit.

Would a Hickenlooper campaign focused on manufacturing be relevant and powerful now? Yes. COVID-19 has thrust these very issues to the forefront of the national conversation. A different choice in 2019 might have positioned him perfectly for a Senate run.

It is heartening, I admit, to witness the wave of legislative efforts and business initiatives to reshore manufacturing, or promote more domestic production, in light of COVID-related disruptions. Tariffs, or IP theft, or other challenges that companies encounter managing global supply chains might have been the trigger, but weren't. Whatever it takes.

For those inclined to jump the bandwagon, I'd encourage a wide view. Sure, rebuilding America's manufacturing supply chain is about competing with China. But more, it's about investing in American towns and cities and workers; about recapturing the unseen virtues of family-owned companies that span generations; about supercharging American ingenuity and sustaining a legacy of invention and innovation that only manufacturing fuels; about Ford and John Deere and Hewlett-Packard and Coca-Cola and the hundreds of American-made brands that brought us this far.

It's these positive attributes that must shape our perspective on U.S. manufacturing, just as incentives, not tariffs, should guide efforts to convince American companies to reshore production, or cite it here in the first place.

We won't be endorsing a particular candidate for the Senate, or for president for that matter, but we'll certainly point out when elected officials distinguish themselves as manufacturing advocates, or not. It's not too much to ask of any elected official to articulate their strategy to sustain manufacturing, both nationally and in our local communities.

For my part, more support and less snark seems an appropriate tactic, given the times. A different outcome would be a just reward.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at btaylor@companyweek.com