Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, has a fine piece in today’s WSJ on the manufacturing sector in the United States, growing and adapting in defiance of tales about its domestic death. “The Myth of Industrialization” is available online by subscription only, but it’s worth making the extra effort to find a copy.
It’s been a quarter-century since author John Naisbitt blithely described manufacturing as a “declining sport” that Americans could easily offshore to Asia. Since then obituaries for U.S. manufacturing, both mournful and enraged, have been written many times.
The reports of death are premature. Many of the most vibrant economic regions in this country — from the deep South to the Pacific Northwest — are still making and transporting real goods. The success of America’s “material boys” suggests that the old economy and its blue-collar workers — so often patronized and pitied — can still more than hold their own in today’s global economy.
Kotkin concentrates on the logistics sector as a component in this manufacturing vitality, part and parcel of investment in infrastructure. Charleston, S.C., and Long Beach provide two interesting case studies as strong economies tied directly to the ports and trade. Economies some would kill.
In New York as well, “material boys” face an uphill battle. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears to place relatively low priority on the city’s once bustling port and logistics-based economy. This is unfortunate, since New York continues to hemorrhage its manufacturing jobs while the wholesale trade economy remains stagnant, despite a global trade boom. Mr. Bloomberg might think that the manufacturing and logistics sector is nothing more than a relic, and that the city can rely purely on information-age billionaires in technology, finance and entertainment who perform their “dirty” work behind computer screens and in booths at posh restaurants.
Such an approach may well benefit some of America’s elite. But for many others, careers in the material world offer a surer shot for a better future.
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