Manufacturing must refine its collective efforts to advance the sector

Jun 24, 2014

As we’ve chronicled the past ten months, manufacturers have begun to take important steps to organize to advance their interests. Not only must industry see these through, more is needed to address challenges like workforce development, local procurement, and public policy support that continue to vex the manufacturing economy.

Think about health care, technology, law, banking and finance, real estate, and hospitality. They’ve developed highly integrated social networks that actively support industry trade events, media, lobbying, and education. They use dollars and alumni to influence higher education. The outcome is a conveyer belt of qualified graduates from universities that support growth and innovation. Their brightest stars occupy the highest elected offices and dot the political landscape. Collectively, these sector ecosystems shape America’s business dialogue. Their business institutions pave the way.

Certainly there’s refined organization in some of manufacturing’s silos. In Colorado, bioscience and medical, natural foods, craft beer, snow sports, software, clean-tech and other groups have developed member organizations that pay significant dividends. And regional trade groups like CAMA, the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, are developing member-driven agendas that attempt to cross sectors to address common challenges.

But even CAMA’s leadership would likely acknowledge the unique challenge facing so diverse and broad a sector as manufacturing. Until recently, a medical device maker may not have seen a meaningful connection with a fledgling apparel maker or industrial manufacturer. Furthermore, organizations that once defined manufacturing’s most powerful silos have fallen into disfavor - think automotive’s polarizing labor unions.

Today the industry attributes and challenges that bind the disparate manufacturing silos are more clear. Finding a qualified CNC operator to shape and cut metal on an industrial shop floor is more an equivalent challenge to locating trained workers for a bioscience clean room. Sourcing a local firm instead of one in China to extrude plastic for use in packaging is a shared goal for a window-blind or consumer goods manufacturer or food company.

Moreover, the appeal of a job in craft brewing - and young people are flocking here with the hope of drinking the fruits of their exploits - can be used to sell the virtue of a manufacturing career in other industries. Showcasing the new career path offered by agile, innovative companies in appealing manufacturing sectors must be leveraged for the benefit of the entire manufacturing economy.

First, though, business leaders here should take important next steps to organize and promote their interests.

I’ll describe what those are, along with several options being developed that represent the type of advanced ecosystem networking manufacturers need, in upcoming issues of CompanyWeek.