Washington Post: Manufacturing, Doing Pretty Well

By September 3, 2007Media Relations

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story headlined, “In N.C., A Second Industrial Revolution,” with the subhed, “Biotech Surge Shows Manufacturing Still Key to U.S. Economy.” Reporter Peter S. Goodman uses the difficulties faced by the textile industry in North Carolina as a scene setter, highlighting the rise of other manufacturing sectors as the state and national economy adapts and changes. Thesis paragraph:

As lawmakers pursue legislation aimed at softening the blow from factory closures, and as the downside of trade emerges as a talking point in the 2008 presidential campaign, it might seem that manufacturing is a dying part of the U.S. economy. But the retooling of this old brick building on Credle Street [a former Kayser-Roth textile mill] underscores how, despite its oft-pronounced demise, American manufacturing is in many regards stronger than ever.

The United States makes more manufactured goods today than at any time in history, as measured by the dollar value of production adjusted for inflation — three times as much as in the mid-1950s, the supposed heyday of American industry. Between 1977 and 2005, the value of American manufacturing swelled from $1.3 trillion to an all-time record $4.5 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Obligatory quibbles: Goodman could have spent a little time examining how U.S. policymakers hamper the ability of manufacturing to compete in the global economy. High taxes, high energy costs, the expensive civil justice system — these all warrant inclusion as factors preventing more robust competition.

Also, what mention there is of state government’s involvement in North Carolina’s pro-manufacturing policies notes state-supported training programs and investment in biotechnology. Seems a bit off point. Manufacturing’s migration to southern states is driven by such things as tax and labor policy; North Carolina ranked No. 1 the workforce category in CNBC’s Top States for Doing Business, in part because it’s a right-to-work state.

But those are quibbles. It’s really a fair-minded, balanced view of manufacturing’s plusses and minuses, informed by an appreciation the plusses really add up. Congrats to the Post and Goodman.

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