Manufacturing is losing the PR battle. Does it matter?

By Bart Taylor | Sep 27, 2016

Despite the best efforts of candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, manufacturing continues to get killed in the business press. In Monday's debate, Clinton even used a term endearing to government and policy wonks -- "advanced manufacturing" -- to promote its importance.

But business media remains generally unimpressed. It's more popular today for local and national voices to dismiss manufacturing as a relic than view it as integral to the future.

How else to explain the Denver Business Journal releasing its Book of Lists last week without a single manufacturer among the 22 finalists and 11 Power Book winners?

Manufacturing wasn't even a category. Instead:

The Power Book is an exclusive look at business men and women in 11 industry categories who were prominent in the news over the last year or who, in our judgment, otherwise deserve recognition for recent business accomplishments."

No manufacturing executives in Colorado deserve recognition? Astonishing.

As head-scratching the DBJ's omission, the national media is often more transparent in its anti-manufacturing bias. Here's Forbes' Tim Worstall:

[T]he truth is that manufacturing simply isn't important as a part of the economy these days. The attention we all pay to it is simply an historical overhang from when it was more important.

Worstall's anti-manufacturing opinion is one thing. His bias is more problematic when he misleads with statistics. Worstall cites manufacturing's share of "real GDP'," arguing that its influence has diminished:

The truth is that manufacturing is only 15% of the entire global economy. And it's some 12% of the US economy. . . . That is, it's unimportant.

Was manufacturing "unimportant" in 1960? Quite the contrary. But using Worstall's statistic of choice, ‘the truth' is that manufacturing's 50-year historical average has remained the same:

Manufacturing's not the employment engine it once was. Today we make more with less workers. It makes manufacturing less important from an employment standpoint. It also makes it an industry in transition.

It should be easy for business media to see past the employment sea change, as dramatic as it is. As we've documented, American productivity has never been higher. Candidates running for president would do well to explain why manufacturing is important to the U.S. economy. Here's a national perspective from Brookings:

  • Americans live and work in a global economy in which we exchange products we produce for those we consume. Manufacturers account for a very large proportion of our 'tradables.' If we're to ever run a trade surplus again, we'll do so because of manufacturers.
  • A strong domestic manufacturing sector offers a degree of protection from international economic and political disruptions. This is most obvious in the provision of national security, where the risk of a weak manufacturing capability is clear.
  • Manufacturing is often identified as an area in which much of the country's research and development takes place, but as illustrated by industries such as pharmaceuticals and consumer electronics, manufacturing has become increasingly separate from research and development.
  • The long-term decline in the manufacturing share of employment has meant fewer jobs available at good wages for workers who lack advanced education. The loss of nearly 6 million jobs since 2000 has been damaging to workers who have been laid off, communities that have lost a vital source of employment, and to young workers who have found jobs in the sector.

How long can the list go? Try local reasons:

  • Colorado's manufacturing sector is driving regional economic growth, through dynamic sectors like food and beverage and advanced fabricating. Visit the grocery store; you'll see.
  • Consumers want more local and American-made products. If Colorado producers don't make things for them, manufacturers from other states will.
  • Outdoor recreation, beer and spirits, and apparel are promising new manufacturing industries.

On the eve of the election, consider bias in media and how, if you're a manufacturer, it matters.

And what you intend to do about it.

Bart Taylor is publisher if CompanyWeek. Reach him at

We hope to see you Wednesday afternooon at the third annual Apparel + Lifestyle Manufacturing Summit in Denver to help advance regional manufacturing!