- Duluth, MN is the perfect example of the decline of large-scale manufacturing in the U.S., with over 20% unemployment rate and decades-old factory buildings, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio reports.
- Nowadays, however, it is also a symbol of a new trend in American manufacturing: A focus on small, craft and niche products that can be shipped direct to consumers worldwide.
- WUWM explores the story of Andy Goldfine, who built out a 60-employee wide manufacturing facility in the city and now exports products globally. Such facilities are popping up in cities across the nations, bringing hope for a resurgence in the production sector, albeit of more niche products.
While the news is packed with mega corporate mergers and global trade wars, there is a renaissance of sorts in American manufacturing, especially in our urban areas. Cities and towns across America are finding an increase in manufacturing in places that perhaps once housed large traditional manufacturing plants and warehouses. A continued emphasis on all that is "local" — one that started with a focus on retro industries like microbreweries, coffee roasters, and small restaurants and farms — is propelling a new wave of manufacturing.
While we may not see a return of too many multi-thousand-employee factories, small niche manufactures are doing quite well, and growing. These factories are not trying to compete with mammoth factories in China pumping out commodities. Their success comes from innovative products sold at sensible margins using the latest technologies and productivity tools. A blast furnace and an engine lathe might not work in a dense urban neighborhood, but a 3-D printer and a quiet computer controlled machine tool may fit quite nicely.
Economic development comes in many flavors and cities recognize the value of adding back manufacturing to the mix of urban development, stressing its importance for the tax roles and as a provider of good paychecks. One organization leading the charge in the urban manufacturing movement is the Urban Manufacturing Alliance. Their focus is on economic development for communities, companies, and employees alike.
In concert with this movement in small manufacturing comes the need for suppliers to support them. How wonderful to have local supply chains supporting local manufacturing. Now that’s a sustainable manufacturing strategy that deserves our support.