Stage is set for manufacturers to advance their interests

By Bart Taylor | 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 vex the manufacturing economy.

Think about health care, technology, law, banking and finance, real estate, and hospitality. They’ve developed cohesive, active communities that 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 colleges and universities. Their brightest stars occupy the highest elected offices and dot the political landscape. Collectively, these sector ecosystems shape America’s business dialogue. Their community 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.

Yet even CAMA’s leadership would likely acknowledge the unique challenge facing so diverse and broad a community 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.

But 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 tech-qualified workers for a bioscience clean room. Sourcing a local firm instead of one in China to extrude plastic, for example, may be a shared goal for companies from any number of manufacturing sectors.

Moreover, the appeal of a cool manufacturing job - and the region has many including making beer and food - is a great jumping off point to promote maker careers in other industries. This generation want more options. Entrepreneurship is once again in fashion. The broad manufacturing economy offers increasingly compelling options.

Business leaders here should take important next steps to promote their interests, to build on what's been done. I’ll describe the options being discussed - or not being discussed but should be - next month.