A Renaissance of US Manufacturing? Really?

No April Fool’s joke here.  According to several reports, certain types of manufacturing are doing unexpectedly well.  We’ve highlighted previous indications of a manufacturing renaissance.  But, BusinessWeek makes the case for a revival of sorts among US garment manufacturers, pronounced dead for a generation now:

[Boathouse Sports, a Philadelphia apparel manufacturer] and other small U.S. clothing manufacturers that bucked the offshoring trend are catching a tailwind as rising costs for labor and transportation make Asia more expensive. In the U.S. apparel market, domestic production fell from 41 percent in the late 1990s to just 3 percent in 2008, according to the most recent government data. Still, hundreds of small companies, most with just a few dozen employees, manufacture in the U.S. Many are benefiting from their decision to keep production stateside, says Nate Herman, vice-president for international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Assn. “There haven’t been any new manufacturers popping up, but the ones that are around are pretty much at maximum production,” Herman says.

The NY Times, weighs in too.  But being the Times, they focus on a trendier topic.  According to design and architecture blogger Allison Arieff, emerging manufacturers are locally based, niche operations:

President Obama, looking for ideas for job creation, came to San Francisco last month to pick the brains of tech-industry giants like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg. He would have done well to include Kate Sofis as well — and not only to right the gender imbalance at the dinner table. Sofis, executive director of SFMade, is helping breathe new life into a forgotten potential economic driver: manufacturing.

“Manufacturing isn’t dead and doesn’t need to be preserved,” she says. “Let’s stop fixating on what’s lost. Let’s see what we have here, what’s doing well, and let’s help those folks do better.”

And this isn’t the whole story by any means.  But it does suggest that the way to think about US manufacturing is not just to sit there wringing one’s hands over what has been lost.  Lots of great new manufacturers are just getting started here.


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