Is American manufacturing making a come-back? According to Joel Kotkin, that’s what the numbers indicate. Thanks largely to the rising cost of wages in China and the discovery of cheap natural gas everywhere from Texas to New York “the U.S. industrial base has been on a powerful upswing, with employment climbing steadily since 2009…In 2011 American manufacturing continued to expand, while Germany, Japan and Brazil all weakened in this vital sector.”This growth isn’t limited to areas which have been traditionally known for manufacturing. The fossil fuel industry is making cities like San Antonio and Oklahoma City into manufacturing powerhouses. The same is true of Seattle where the aerospace industry is booming. But the comeback isn’t excluding the Rustbelt either:
…[Milwaukee] is home to a wide array of specialized manufacturing firms ranging from machine tools to energy. Over the past year alone the region added almost 3900 heavy metal jobs and has consistently led other Great Lakes communities in job creation.But Milwaukee is not the only rust belt rebound town. The greater Detroit area…actually added the most heavy metal jobs — more than 12,000 — than any region of the country. The area’s ranking, however, was dragged down by its legacy; greater Detroit still has lost almost 130,000 positions in the past decade.
Manufacturing is not going back to the “golden age” of the 1960s when almost any (white, male) American with a high school diploma could support a family with a manufacturing job. It takes fewer people to make more stuff these days, thanks to automation and improved efficiency. But manufacturing isn’t going to disappear, either — especially if upper middle class liberals stop trying to regulate it out of existence.There are still obstacles to overcome: Growth in manufacturing is largely attributable to new discoveries of and better methods of extracting natural gas and oil. These are not the Solyndra style subsidized and government planned “green jobs” our social and cultural betters somehow assumed would drive the return of American manufacturing, but they are jobs nonetheless.Another problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for American manufacturers to recruit skilled labor. Manufacturing has grown increasingly technical but the supply of people with the ability and energy to operate heavy machinery hasn’t increased. We’ve got to get better at helping young people who don’t much care for academics to get the training they need to cash in on the brown jobs boom. For a lot of the millennial generation, these brown jobs are their best path to a middle class life; we need a pro-brown jobs government that sees these jobs as a blessing not an eyesore.