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Manufacturing: Canary in the Coal Mine?

Posted on | April 14, 2010 | No Comments

Sing, birdie, sing.

On April 4th, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an article by Harold D. Miller, entitled “Ripple Effect: Manufacturing Job Drop Has Wide Ramifications.” The story detailed the number of jobs lost because of the recession in the last two years (28,600) with 35% of them occurring in the manufacturing sector. “In fact, manufacturing accounted for a bigger share of total job losses here than in all but three of the top 40 regions in the country. (Even in Detroit, only 30 percent of the lost jobs were in manufacturing.),” the article points out.

But the REAL wake-up call to me came with this line: “Because manufacturing jobs are  among the highest paid in the region, the impact on regional income was even bigger: 50 percent of the wage income that Pittsburgh region families lost between 2008 and 2009 was due to manufacturing job losses.”  And the loss doesn’t stop there since many service agencies as well as health and education institutions are dependent on manufacturing salaries.  Holey moley!  No wonder governments here and elsewhere are crouched into begging mode looking for tax remedies.

The article offers several suggested solutions for helping manufacturers to gain back their stature:  more venture from private investors, increased bank lending, training for high school students (huh?), citizen support for government investment (what? MORE taxes?), and state-wide tax cuts for manufacturers (sounds like even MORE taxes out of my pocket).

WHAT ABOUT THE MANUFACTURERS?  What about their responsibilities? Like figuring out what markets they really serve…and what products their buyers really need?  And – hey – not waiting for the phone to ring on its own?

I’m constantly amazed by manufacturers who don’t take steps to learn how to market themselves but want special treatment to bring jobs to a region.  And there are lots of cities, besides Pittsburgh – Detroit, Akron, Houston, and a lot of southern state cities — who have fallen for vendor demands only to be disappointed when the companies later abandon these cities.  Why isn’t it a written PRE-REQUISITE that those manufacturers only get tax incentives IF they properly market their products and continue to grow?

OK.  Maybe I’m oversimplifying this but I’m starting to think manufacturers are the canaries in the coal mine, because it’s not just manufacturers who don’t get marketing.  LOTS of companies don’t.

And, obviously, there ARE manufacturers and other companies who do get it.  But, hey, aren’t they the ones we know about?  Why? BECAUSE THEY KNOW HOW TO MARKET THEMSELVES AND PAY ATTENTION TO CUSTOMER NEEDS. 

As for the rest of the manufacturers in Pittsburgh — or elsewhere — I do believe they are canaries in the coal mine.  And they’re singing of their own demise because they haven’t learned the first premise of staying alive:  find a need and market to it.  Bye bye birdie.  And, you know what?  Good riddance!

To read the entire Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, click here.  To read a longer version on Pittsburgh’s Future blog, click here.

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