I think that’s an old story,” says Barry Blue­stone, an econ­o­mist at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity in Boston. He’s been studying the 7,000 man­u­fac­turing busi­nesses in Mass­a­chu­setts, sur­veying hun­dreds of them and making site visits to dozens.

We’re seeing a new, almost renais­sance in man­u­fac­turing,” he says. Blue­stone says man­u­fac­turers are learning new tech­nolo­gies, and new man­u­fac­turing tech­nolo­gies are being devel­oped at major uni­ver­si­ties. Nan­otech­nology, for example, holds great promise for cutting-​​edge U.S. man­u­fac­turing firms, he says.

From Pink Flamingos To Heart Pumps

Blue­stone says he’s seen many com­pa­nies trans­form them­selves into high-​​tech com­pet­i­tive oper­a­tions, whereas before they used to make much lower-​​tech prod­ucts — in one case it was lawn orna­ments. “The pink flamingos that were made in Leomin­ster, Mass., the plas­tics cap­ital of New Eng­land. .. . Well, that same com­pany is now making med­ical equip­ment,” he says.

While many higher-​​tech firms are growing, other less-​​competitive firms are dying. And the gov­ern­ment projects U.S. man­u­fac­turing jobs overall will decline a bit by 2020.

At the same time, though, a lot of man­u­fac­turing workers are older — and get­ting ready to retire. “There are mil­lions of jobs that will open up in man­u­fac­turing as the cur­rent work­force retires,” Blue­stone says. Many of the man­u­fac­turers he’s talked to “tell us their No. 1 issue is where will the skilled workers come from to replace those that are retiring today,” he says.

Read the article at NPR →