Manufacturing’s modern brand will embrace old language and new faces

By Bart Taylor | Apr 20, 2015

Does the language of manufacturing matter? Should we care whether a food company is labeled a 'processor,' a craft beer company a 'maker,' or an industrial business utilizing automation to build things a 'technology' company?

The reality is that today, in business, we do care. We artfully avoid using the term manufacturing when another term will do. 'Manufacturing' still connotes a dirty and dying industry sector. It remains a pejorative, loaded descriptor.

It's an important difference for those who believe manufacturing's experiencing a broad-based revival despite barriers - like an outdated brand. One of two things will likely happen. We'll develop new verbiage to describe the manufacturing economy. Or industry will embrace its past as it transforms from smokestacks to lasers, soot to barley hulls.

What industry's not, in some cases, is comfortable with its own moniker. Manufacturers have taken to avoiding, well, 'manufacturing.'

Take the news story last week involving Karcher North America's new Denver location. The Denver Business Journal noted that "Kärcher North America -- a subsidiary of Winnenden, Germany-based Kärcher Group — produces high-pressure cleaners for industrial and wholesale use, window vacuum cleaners, industrial sweepers, floor care scrubbers and more." Apparently Karcher doesn't manufacture. It produces. But the DBJ is like everyone else; we've come to favor 'producer' instead of manufacturer. Or 'processor' or 'maker' for that matter.

I visited the Kärcher website, to the About page, and to my surprise, couldn't find the word 'manufacture' there either. (Likely the same experience as the DBJ's intrepid reporter.) They 'produce' stuff, too.

Yet the shorter path to a modern brand will be a fresh embrace of 'manufacturing' -- no other word or phrase is as inclusive -- one informed not by old stereotypes but by the people and companies shaping today's sector. Like Bob Wolski's Spire-EMS team, leading a new generation of precision engineered manufacturing solutions. Or, as fresh new faces of manufacturing go, Josh and Zora Tabin of Wild Zora. Both are profiled today.

The Tabins' epic journey is equally a great story and parable of the modern sector, with most all the components that ultimately are redefining manufacturing: motivated entrepreneurs, inspired by place and local materials and suppliers, with lifestyle informing business decisions and growth (one hopes) enabled by a supportive community. Josh and Zora Tabin's quest to find a place to raise a family and start a business is a portrait of the new sector. As Margaret Jackson writes, "They rented an RV and spent half a year driving over 18,000 miles around North America looking for 'the best place in the world to raise a family,' says Josh Tabin, co-founder of Wild Zora."

"I think Zora and I approached the move in diametrically-opposed but completely complementary ways," Josh told me. "I'm analytical and make decisions with my head; she's intuitive and makes decisions with her heart. I did research and compiled spreadsheets filled with city data, including everything from population density, proximity to an international airport, cost of real estate, types and amount of industry, healthcare, education, weather, types and frequency of natural disasters! Zora, for her part, tolerated driving with me all over the country, city by city, and when we'd roll into town, she'd usually give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down within the first few minutes.

"I suppose it was almost comical that sometimes my spreadsheets told me about a fantastic place to live -- but Zora was so quick to say, 'Nope -- next!' Of course, there's no perfect place for everyone -- but we're very thankful we had the opportunity to discover the perfect place for us in this stage of our lives."

And we should be happy they're the fresh new face of . . . manufacturing.