Manufacturing’s change-makers

By Bart Taylor | Aug 09, 2016

If foundries and fabricators are the heart and soul of manufacturing, today craft and lifestyle brands are its upstart rebels, tipping over convention and carving fresh tracks through and around an ecosystem never designed with its interests in mind.

Just the opposite. Craft food and beverage manufacturers have labored against a bulwark of industrial competition to gain a foothold but now lead a consumer revolution. Competitors are now envious suitors. Apparel and outdoor products enthusiasts intent on developing authentic, local brands work against a supply chain that was offshored wholesale in the late 20th century. But entrepreneurs find a way and today they plant the seeds for new U.S.-made industry, and model innovation and passion the multinational set covets.

In many ways these brands represent manufacturing's future every bit as much as the tech-informed advanced manufacturers also changing our industrial landscape. Makers share a connection.

Here's where we're failing our rebellious vanguard. Support is often lip service and nothing more -- even from manufacturing brethren. We're prone to dismiss cutters, benders, and welders as relics but also frame the low-tech world of cut-and-sew or small-batch food processing as somehow beneath our aspirations as an advanced manufacturing community. For many, satellites are the end game, not saison or sweatshirts.

It's a mistake to exclude any manufacturer. We should fancy them all.

For one, if we're to change the perception of manufacturing, the new face of industry must include makers and manufacturers that resonate with a new generation. Today it's a wide cross-section of neo-industrialists making ‘beer, food, clothes, skis, bicycles, and electric cars.' Sally and Sam may not be interested in a career in rocket assembly or catheter fabrication, but may be in fashion design or advanced food processing and distribution. Or a manufacturing opportunity with an inherent social mission that helps scratch an itch.

A healthy cross-industry make-up also sustains the sector when select industries struggle. A perfect storm developed early this century when the U.S. auto industry imploded at the height of our infatuation with offshoring. Even the U.S. government was in the game. We invested in Russian-made rocket engines and manufacturing infrastructure in places like Vietnam, today a lifestyle manufacturing haven for U.S. brands.

Closer to home, pundits muse on the troubles ahead for Colorado's craft beer sector. But if we look back, it was U.S. craft entrepreneurs sowing seeds for a more diverse sector. Ensuring manufacturing's success means supporting a broad resurgence of industry.

So this week as CompanyWeek features a slew of upstart lifestyle manufacturers, embrace the change-makers. Revel in a new generation of manufacturers making it impossible to ignore the barriers we've thrown up that thwart our industrial ambitions -- and their success.

And rally around the rebels.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Contact him at