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From The Editor

Manufacturing On The Move

Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

T he good news is that, according to the Institute for Supply Management's (ISM's) "Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®," after a year and a half of contraction in US manufacturing activity, there was expansion in August in 11 of 18 manufacturing industries. The 4-percent increase drove the index to 52.9 percent - the highest reading since June 2007. More importantly, the categories Textile Mills and Apparel, Leather & Allied Products Industries led the 11 industries reporting growth. ISM also states, "A reading above 50 percent indicates that the manufacturing economy is generally expanding; below 50 percent indicates that it is generally contracting." So, this reading may trend toward a tipping point, as the index crosses over the 50-percent mark.

US manufacturing in general is being called into question more and more as a viable business activity. In defense of the sector, a recent post on Time.com, written by David Von Drehle, was a real eye-catcher. Titled "Yes, We'll Still Make Stuff,"  Von Drehle's article focused on demystifying the shifts in US manufacturing, making the basic argument that increased output doesn't necessarily equate to increased jobs, and that society's image of manufacturing - of  "smoky ... megaplants" - is blind to the small and mid-size companies replacing them.

Von Drehle stated: "According to U.N. statistics, the U.S. remains by far the world's largest manufacturer, producing nearly twice as much value as No. 2 China. Since 1990, U.S. manufacturing output has grown by nearly $800 billion - an amount larger than the entire manufacturing economy of Germany, a global powerhouse."  He went on to say, "Using constantly improving technology to make more-valuable goods, American workers doubled their productivity in less than a generation - which paradoxically rendered millions of them obsolete."

Although his critical observations seem overly harsh, he does recognize that businesses are putting more thought into the decision to outsource or manufacture at home, with consideration of intellectual property protection, innovation spurred on by US universities and proximity to the US consumer.

Thinking back on Textile World Innovation Award honorees and company profiles, these trends form a common thread among leading companies and go beyond the rant of a flinty journalist.

As Von Drehle stated: "Highly skilled workers creating high-value products in high-stakes industries - that's the sweet spot for manufacturing workers in coming years. ... Ultimately, what's endangered is not US manufacturing. It is our deeply ingrained cultural image of the factory and its workers."

And the factory continues to trend toward flexibility and creating higher-value supply chains. These can take the form of innovative medical and technical textiles or, as profiled in this issue's Executive Forum, bringing solutions to apparel retailers and brands. David Sasso, vice president, sales, Buhler Quality Yarns Corp., has more to say than TW could print on the topic of how quality apparel costs can be controlled through proper selection of yarn that is engineered to perform. Change isn't easy, it's just essential.

September/October 2009