MFG Advocate …

Disconnection: manufacturing’s value vs. its perception

By  Penny Brown, MTAdvocacy Manager

I’m far from being a longtime veteran of IMTS, but my third go-round at manufacturing’s Greatest Show on Earth was definitely the one that left me most impressed. From start to finish, there was a palpable buzz about McCormick Place, an entirely different feeling in the air.

It could’ve been for any number of reasons. The 3D printed car, Strati, came together in the Emerging Technology Center and has become a rock star in its own right. More kids than ever (17,000+) made their way through the biggest-ever Smartforce Student Summit, showing a real interest in STEM education and manufacturing careers. You could even point to sheer business reasons, with the Wall Street Journal recently pointing out that the capital equipment used in U.S. manufacturing has reached its highest average age since 1938 – meaning there is a need to invest in some new, shiny machines.

But my feeling is that it encompasses a lot more than that, and that it’s all of those pieces combined. It’s entirely possible that manufacturing is finally getting its day.

That said, this is not the time to let up and coast easy! There is still much work to be done to show the world why manufacturing is vital to our future. To that end, the U.S. Commerce Department recently had a great post on the Commerce Blog ( that showed one very important but also disheartening statistic: More than 70 percent of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong economy and national defense, but only 30 percent of parents would actually encourage their kids to enter manufacturing as a career. What’s happening to that other 40 percent?

The post lists some other great stats about manufacturing’s value:
  • For every $1 spent in manufacturing, the sector creates $1.32 for the U.S. economy.
  • In just five states, manufacturing adds more than half a trillion dollars to the economy (yes, trillion with a T!).
  • The average annual salary of entry-level manufacturing engineers is nearly $60,000.
  • The average annual salary of manufacturing workers is more than $77,000, about 17 percent more than similar workers employed in other sectors.
On the heels of IMTS came the 2014 edition of MFG Day (October 3), a chance for manufacturers to throw their doors wide open and show the world what manufacturing is really like – the advanced technology, the innovation, the great careers. With an estimated 16,000+ students making their way through the Smartforce Student Summit just a few weeks ago, clearly the message is getting out there. But it’s up to us as an industry to keep driving it home.

So along with following up on all those leads you got and connections you made on the show floor at IMTS, add a few more items to your to-do list:
  1. Work on developing relationships with your local technical and community colleges to generate student interest and a curriculum suited to the skills needed for a career in manufacturing.
  2. Get to know your local, state and national government officials who make decisions affecting your business. Educate them on the value that manufacturing is bringing to the economy, as well as challenges and barriers to success.
  3. Get out and vote! Make your voice heard at the polls.

Let’s keep it going! I hope that IMTS 2016 finds our industry even more energized and ready to take on a bright future ahead.

What do you think makes manufacturing great? Contact me at