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Keep Manufacturing Close: A Brooklyn Tale

Is manufacturing dead in America?  Have all the good “blue collar” jobs been exported to low-cost countries, never to return?

News reports are full of stories about the loss of manufacturing jobs, but the truth today is something different.  During the past eight years since the global recession, manufacturing has bounded back strongly, gaining 1.1 million jobs to reach over 12 million today – many based in California.  Companies are bringing manufacturing back home for reasons of quality and creative control.  According to the Institute for Supply Management, 17 of 18 major manufacturing industries have been in “growth mode” in recent months.

Manufacturing is vital to a healthy economy not just because it has the single highest multiplier of any economic sector, generating $1.81 in output for every dollar invested, or that every direct manufacturing job supports another four.  Perhaps even more important for a middle-weight economy like Sacramento’s is that manufacturing occupations pay better than other working-class fields, averaging $57,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; are plentiful in our region, and with the right training, people can get on the highway from poverty to opportunity relatively quickly.

World-renowned fashion designer Nanette Lepore made a compelling case for keeping manufacturing close during the 2018 Study Mission program to Brooklyn, hosted by the Sacramento Metro Chamber.  Brooklyn is seeing a manufacturing resurgence, chiefly with small, creative enterprises that leverage technology, local supply chains, and modern tools, like 3-D printing, to knock down traditional barriers to entry.

After years in Manhattan, Lepore is now operating from Brooklyn where the city is using their building codes to protect and preserve old warehouses as manufacturing sites and directing infill housing elsewhere.  You can’t have all the beauty of fashion, art, or design without making room for the grit that builds it, said Lepore.  Developers of the Brooklyn Navy Yard are breaking up massive buildings into smaller 500, 1,000, and 1,500 square-foot individual business sites to match the needs of smaller manufacturing enterprises with great success.  Hyper-localized is the new story, we heard.

Keeping manufacturing close allows for improved creative control over the result, Lepore continued.  You don’t have to wait days for proofs or early runs to know whether you hit the mark.  Quality control is also dramatically increased when cycle times are shortened by hours or thousands of miles, reducing the margin for error.  “Speed to market and proximity to suppliers also are big advantages in today’s economy,” Lepore said.

Could we be returning to the past?

Six hundred years ago, humanity finally left the dark ages thanks to the rebirth of the arts, learning, and invention.  Historians point to the epicenter being places like Florence, Italy, where small, open-stall shops lined bustling city streets, bringing together clothiers with fine artists, cobblers, metal workers, sculptors, and machinists of all kinds, collaborating and borrowing from each others’ innovations.  Those were the days of Leonardo Da Vinci.  That close-knit manufacturing community launched the renaissance, and later the scientific revolution that would lead to the discovery of new cures, new frontiers, and improve living standards for millions.

In the greater Sacramento area, manufacturers like Siemens Mobility and Tri Tool have come together to form the Sacramento Valley Manufacturing Initiative (SVMI), with Valley Vision as their host organization.  Their aim:  to partner with educators to build the talent pipeline for in-demand manufacturing jobs in places like South Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, and Woodland.  Research shows the Sacramento Region is home to over 2,700 manufacturing companies – half of which have fewer than five employees – in fields ranging from machine shops, food processors, and breweries to medical device companies whose technologies are being used around the world.  There were 10,000 job postings for manufacturing positions in the Sacramento Region in the past 12 months, a massive gap and growing opportunity which area employers are eager to fill.

Brooklyn showed us a glimpse of Sacramento’s future.  Let’s build it together.  To get involved, please contact SVMI’s Dean Peckam or read more about the Sacramento Valley Manufacturing Initiative.

Bill Mueller was Chief Executive of Valley Vision.