I used to work at a newspaper alongside an editor (now deceased) whose grandfather helped to build the Weldon Tool Co.
Weldon Tool, over the years, has claimed many innovations in tooling; its contributions to metal cutting still can be seen today.
That editor always acknowledged that his comfortable lifestyle — the way he was reared and the education that his family was able to afford him — was a product of the manufacturing company to which he, in effect, was heir. He never followed the business that his grandfather helped to build in the 1920s, but he benefited greatly from it. He knew it. And, he always had a soft spot — as an editor — for manufacturing.
I thought of him recently when I found something on the Weldon Tool Co. website that caught my attention.
What Weldon Tool holds true — and I’m paraphrasing this to take it away from the context of a single company — is that innovations don’t occur by accident.
“They are the result of skilled people using state-ofthe- art materials, processes and equipment.”
It may be a simple statement, but it’s profound too. You can take it a step further to conclude that the benefits that come from manufacturing — a better lifestyle and better education — also aren’t accidents.
I think everyone knows that instinctively, but I also think people who spend their lives immersed in manufacturing know it from day-to-day experience.
Along with agriculture and mining, manufacturing is one of the primary methods of building wealth: You grow it, you take it out of the ground, or you make it. And manufacturing is the method of wealth-building that’s at the top of the food chain, so to speak: A healthy manufacturing system has to be built; it requires a sophisticated foundation of education and an infrastructure to support it that includes roads, railroads, plumbing, etc.— and most of all, backing from the community.
Manufacturing in the United States has been missing that support for many years and, to take the edge off concerns over that fact, our economic gurus have said repeatedly that the U.S. has moved or is moving from a manufacturing economy to a “service” economy.
We’re now at the start of what economists say will be the greatest economic upheaval of our time, and we’ve seen one of our greatest economic gurus, Alan Greenspan, acknowledge before the U.S. Congress and the world that his economic models were wrong. I think it’s time for everyone to stand up to say:
“You’re damned right you were wrong, now let’s fix it,” and demand that industry and manufacturing get the attention and support that’s been missing. The U.S. continues to have the largest manufacturing economy in the world, but there is plenty of evidence that needs attention.
Everything that we, as a nation, seem to value — good schools, tight communities, self-determination, independence from foreign powers — is derived from a strong manufacturing base. And we have seen in the last few months exactly how sturdy the foundation of our society is when it’s built on banks and services.
If we expect to hand down the advantages that my editor friend benefited from, we need to put pressure on Congress and the new Administration to provide incentives for manufacturers to reinvest in plants and equipment; and to develop policies that allow them to compete more evenly against manufacturers in other parts of the world.
We need to direct our state and local governments to fix education, so that schools give their students the skills they need to use the state-of-the-art materials, processes and equipment that make products that the world will buy from the United States.
Maybe that is innovative thinking. Maybe it isn’t. Either way, it won’t happen by accident.