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Manufacturing's future? Nagoya, Japan & Germany: industry is on parade again. It's marching overseas. It's headed to China and India and we're all going to be movie stars, lawyers, accountants, short order cooks, and government workers. Manufacturing is passe, caput, history. Who needs it any way?

Well, let me tell anyone who spouts such service economy nonsense (and their ranks are growing), manufacturing is what a modern, success-bound economy does. Manufacturing means the creation of wealth. The rest of us serve it. That's the real service economy. Consider these examples:

One is a statistic about Germany. It exports more than any other country, including the United States and Japan. Germany is a smaller country (80 million) than either 135 million Japanese or some 250 million of us. Yet, the Germans ship more manufactured wealth to the rest of the world than # 1 or #2. How is that so?

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It's been national policy in Germany for generations that they concentrate on the most advanced manufacturing technologies and top quality products that the world will gladly buy. I recall an attorney friend of mine who was leaving on his first trip to Germany. He asked me what it was like. I said: "It's a very wealthy country." He asked: "How did they get so rich?" I asked him how he liked his new BMW.

The second example is in a recent front-page article in the Wall Street Journal, Oct 11, 2005. It tells of the recent ending of the 15-year recession of the Japanese economy and the rise of top-notch, top quality manufacturing in the Nagoya area. That's what's called the "Central Area" of the big island of Honshu. It was often called the Midwest of Japan. It made everything. Then the recession hit, the Chinese and the Indians entered the picture and a lot of what was made in Japan was now made in those two new industrial powers or others from Taiwan to Mexico. The Central Area became the Rust Belt of Japan.

Much like the situation in this country, industrial activity was in decline and the pessimists were running the media show. Then something extraordinary happened along the road to manufacturing oblivion. A few years ago, the industrial community of Central Japan decided to think and to act. They decided that it did make sense for some kinds of manufacturing to leave Japan. It made absolutely no sense, however, for Japan to leave manufacturing. The less complex tasks, the low-end products went to the developing countries. The high-end, higher value-added activity remained at home. They also moved to greatly increase spending on R & D and to support their manufacturers in terms of making sure they had enough time and resources to invest heavily in advanced manufacturing.

Now something like this increased reliance on R & D spending and longer-term planning has often been proposed in the United States, but seemingly the terrific pressure of the quarterly financial statement keeps our publicly held industrial companies from such long-range strategic successes. Smaller shops like yours, of course, can't afford to plan very far ahead. It's difficult in our culture to talk about 5- or 10-year returns in industry. We want it all now--not great expectations. The Japanese and in some ways the Germans, however, have been investing in high-tech manufacturing as if their futures depended upon it. They do. So does ours'.

Wouldn't it be great if we could organize our own industrial leaders to re-invest in, to modernize American industry instead of seemingly giving it all up and to enlist the passionate and educated support of our political class? Unfortunately, we have become a nation obsessed with everything but industrial success. Our attention is captured every day and every night by hurricanes, wars, crime and "injustice." We know more--by far--about movie stars and politicians than they or the American people know about the essential nature of manufacturing. We seem to have no time, as a people, to pay attention to the primary source of our economic success. Third World might be right around the corner, yet we insist on ignoring the basic needs of industry.

Yet, perhaps there's an opportunity here for all of us in the shop world. Perhaps if we started making a little more noise about what we do and got a few politicians interested in the modernization of American industry? If we could just start turning Americans' attention to how the Rust Belt didn't succeed in sinking Japan or Germany ... What do you think?

George Weimer, Contributing Editor
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Author:Weimer, George
Publication:Modern Applications News
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:707
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