Manufacturing: Overconfidence Can Lead to Missed Opportunities

U.S. manufacturers can make their rebound more sustainable by embracing the growing field of sustainability, which they’ve let other countries dominate.


The domestic manufacturing industry is flush with confidence as it leads the U.S. economy back from the brink, albeit at a slower pace lately than most would like. For years, manufacturers were the also-rans of the U.S. economy. We gritted our teeth as doomsayers predicted the sector’s demise and lines on employment charts sloped in the wrong direction.

Now, manufacturing’s back in vogue. Those who got sick of riding in the caboose now enjoy the view from the locomotive. But when the conductor comes through to check tickets, we’d better have a stub that takes us far, not just to the next stop.

I say we’re not doing enough to punch our own ticket. The automotive sector has bounced back from its doldrums, and our global military sprawl feeds the aerospace and defense sector billions in contracts. But what’s new in American manufacturing? Where’s the sustainability in this resurgence?

In one of the most promising manufacturing markets, at least, the U.S. lags. Clean energy manufacturing has fallen disproportionately to efforts by China and other Asian countries, whether it’s development of hybrid batteries, wind turbines, or solar panels. The United States’ stubborn belief in a limitless oil supply, combined with that sector’s powerful lobbying interests and many other factors, has left us flat-footed.

Now is the time to get the spring back in our step and apply our ample skills to an industry that can extend our stint in the economic driver’s seat. The sustainability market, with its hybrid cars, wind farms, and geothermal ingenuity, can help make U.S. manufacturing’s resurgence that much more sustainable.

China just agreed to stop subsidizing its wind power manufacturers. U.S. manufacturers asked for a level playing field, and now that it’s leveling off, it’s time to get to work.

The U.S. rose to dominance in global manufacturing in part because it created the automotive sector and parlayed its first-mover status into decades of leadership. Sustainability could just be the next great opportunity, and it’s not too late for the U.S. to take a leadership role.

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