Some Short-Sighted Cities

By September 13, 2007Manufacturing Institute

Manufacturing takes place all around the United States, in every state and in many cities. For many places, manufacturing was the economic staple for decades and provided the jobs and tax revenue that fired the growth of the cities. Even New York City at one time had a vibrant manufacturing base and there are still many things made in the Big Apple today.


  • drives economic growth more than any sector other than professional services
  • pays 21 percent higher wages than the average US wage
  • generates $1.37 in economic activity in other sectors, dramatically higher than other sectors such as retail
  • and

  • produces about 70 percent of the business R&D, making it this country’s innovation powerhouse.

    Yet some cities have the notion that they don’t need manufacturing, its jobs and its tax revenue anymore. In fact, there are places that want to drive manufacturing right out of town. This is a startling attitude and not one you would find in countries that we compete with day to day, that see the tremendous economic benefits of manufacturing and seek to encourage it, not undermine it. This is also a new iteration of the NIMBY mindset–Not in My Back Yard.

    Here a few cases of towns where there are some backward-thinking voices that think that manufacturing should be done somewhere else or not at all. They are undermining U.S. manufacturing far more than any Chinese competitors:

  • Waukegan, Illinois. The city wants to take more advantage of its Lake Michigan waterfront but can’t seem to be creative enough to do that without trying to eject two major industrial companies who have been there for decades. Guess they have never heard of mixed-use in Waukegan. They think condos would be just dandy there. That will help burnish U.S. competitiveness! More condos. Will they have walls with wallboard made somewhere else? Guess the elected officials up there want to drive out those high paying jobs, the tax revenue from the National Gypsum and LaFarge facilities and make sure their community does not have a diversified economic base, not to mention a diversified population that includes people who make things for a living. Read all about this backward attitude on the lake.
  • Alexandria, Virgina. There’s not a lot of manufacturing in this quaint town south of Washington, DC, but there is a large Mirant power plant there. Neighbors sniff that they get a little dust on their counter tops! So the city fathers and mothers want to push that power plant right out of town. It would be interesting to have the state power authorities cut electricity to Alexandria by the amount generated by this power plant. Or maybe just cut off all power to the city since they think it should be generated somewhere else and not in their backyard. Ironic isn’t it that we have long-term energy challenges and Alexandria’s solution is to be an ostrich and stick their head in the sand. Not in MY back yard, they say.
  • Berkeley, California. To be honest, I was surprised to find that there is a section of this campus town that makes things. But there is just such a district and it has been there for a long time. They have the Waukegan Disease out there, too. Commercial developers are pushing more condos. Just can’t stand that economic diversity that has benefited the Bay Area for decades. Fortunately some enlightened citizens are pushing back and if you’d like to see their very creative documentary on why making things should remain a part of Berkeley’s heritage and future, click here.

    It’s a pity that these cities are so backward in their views on America’s competitiveness and our future. Fortunately not all cities across the country see things like these 3 towns. Most cities and their economic development partners seek to attract new manufacturing investments, for the reasons I highlighted above. If all cities and towns had these backward attitudes and short-sighted vision, we’d squander our high living standards and world standing as an innovation powerhouse for condos with balconies. Not much of a trade off, is it?

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