Busting the Myths about the Future of Manufacturing

Don’t buy the misperceptions. Manufacturing jobs are coming back and those jobs are not dumb, dirty, or dangerous.

Rob Spiegel

January 31, 2023

3 Min Read
Image courtesy of Getty Images

Manufacturing is on the upswing in North America. The moves to reshoring and advanced manufacturing are alive and well. Industry pundit Michele Nash, VP at Industry Reimagined 2030, will tell the story of The Future of Manufacturing at IME West in Anaheim at 4:15  pm on Wednesday, February 8.

We caught up with Nash to get her views on where manufacturing is headed in North America.


Design News: How has progress toward manufacturing repatriation been hindered by misperceptions?

Michele Nash: The misperception of manufacturing declining is a problem. When you have the view that manufacturing is in decline, parents don’t encourage their children to go into these jobs. They see manufacturing jobs as dumb, dirty, and dangerous. Yet there are plants where the floor is clean enough to eat off. Manufacturing jobs pay higher than service jobs. You can go to college for these jobs to get certified.

The big misperception since 2000 is that we needed to be a global economy, and that means sourcing the cheapest parts. There’s also the misperception that the US can’t compete against China. They have hindered the repatriation. From 2000 to 2004, I lost 20% of my database of manufacturing companies in San Diego. 240 companies in four years moved their manufacturing out of California. By 2007 it was happening all over the country.

DN: You call the current time a period of creative disruption. Explain what you mean by that.

Michele Nash: That is important. The COVID pandemic was a wake-up call. We’re in the midst of a big creative disruption. There was concern about the environment and the supply chain not being resilient. We couldn’t get our product out of China. China has a plan to be the superpower of the 21st century. When Our interests don’t converge, we won’t be able to get our products. It’s not just national security we have to worry about. Eighty percent of our pharmaceutical ingredients come from China. We’re in the midst of these challenges and we’re not preparing sufficiently.

DN: What vibrant opportunities exist right now?

Michele Nash: There are vibrant opportunities in manufacturing that are worth billions of dollars. Those opportunities are good for millions of jobs. The electrification of everything, additive manufacturing, industry 4.0, smart cities, and agriculture technology, is changing everything. Opportunities to make products in the US for the local market are growing because manufacturing is less expensive now because of technology.

I’m a big proponent of lean manufacturing. Utilizing the principles of lean and industry 4.0, with sensors, AI, digitization, seeing data in real-time, and getting your metrics, companies are going through lean training to become much more competitive. They can meet China’s prices except when the products are produced in great quantities.

DN: Explain how Industry 4.0, innovative workforce training, and upskilling help US manufacturing.

Michele Nash: San Diego County is one of the leaders in workforce training. We have 10 community colleges and they all have training for skills for manufacturing. At City College, they’re training for machining. It started with the shipbuilding industry. Over the past 15 years, they’ve expanded to machining and programming. Another college trains for biotech. In Charleston, South Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, Florida, and even North Dakota, they’re training for manufacturing jobs. All over the country, community colleges have taken the lead in preparing young people for manufacturing jobs.

DN: How do these factors help reduce the environmental footprint?

Michele Nash: For years we have been setting up manufacturing to be done in a clean nonpolluting way through the Clean Air Act, and OSHA. The US produces products in a much less polluting way than other countries. We’re been outsourcing our pollution to China. When we bring it back, we will do the production in a less polluting way. Plus, we will reduce the pollution from shipping back and forth. We need to have our manufacturing close to the market. It doesn’t make sense to have a Coca-Cola plant overseas when the market is in the US. We should be producing products for our market.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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