Exploding the myths of manufacturing
MIT conference explores the complex state of an industry showing signs of revival.
May 10, 2012
As the United States seeks to reinvigorate its job market and move past economic recession, MIT News examines manufacturing’s role in the country’s economic future through this series on work at the Institute around manufacturing.
The manufacturing sector, its advocates note, is burdened by negative stereotypes. Outsiders often mistakenly think that manufacturing consists of jobs that are “dumb, dirty and dull,” as MIT President Susan Hockfield said at a conference on the subject this week.
Many people also view manufacturing as being in a state of continual decline, a perspective Hockfield has encountered frequently. During discussions about manufacturing around the country over the last 12 to 18 months, “the majority of people I met would assure me without any apparent concern that nothing is made in America,” Hockfield said. “And they would further assert that we should be resigned to the sector’s demise, that it somehow wouldn’t matter.”
The facts present a different story, however. The United States added about 50,000 manufacturing jobs this January alone, the largest monthly gain since 1998. Companies such as Ford Motor Co. have moved overseas plants back to the United States. And high energy costs (which make global shipping more expensive), along with rising foreign wages in some industries, have provided reasons for companies to consider relocating their factories in America.