Monday, September 22, 2014

From Rust-Belt to Tech-Belt: Regional Identity and the Next-Shoring of Innovative Manufacturing

Dubbed rust-belt for its decaying manufacturing facades and population stagnation in the 1980s, the northeastern and east-north central states faced an economic crisis in the 1980s that can still be seen in stirring effects across the region, particularly in cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Allegheny County itself lost more than half of its population from the 1950s to the 1990s.
            With the push to re-shore lost manufacturing jobs from the 1980s, its clear that most of the stereotypical manufacturing jobs will never return. But due to significant advances in shale-gas extraction, water technology, and robotics, advanced manufacturing is overtaking this once old-industrial string of cities – retaking long-vacant manufacturing facilities and fueling the coming of Next-Shorting.
As these technologies become more targeted in certain regions across the country, specific supply-chain matrixes develop and feed off of one another. The loss of industrial production in the Rust-Belt has been replaced by additive manufacturing and new-technology production in the Tech-Belt, remaking the economics of regions that lost thousands of jobs and skilled labor. Without the supply of specific assets, including young, technology-focused workers and the abundance of natural gas, and water-rich resources in rivers and the Great Lakes, this resurgence wouldn’t be possible. Location as discussed in the Next-Shoring article, coupled with rising energy costs, a focus on local demand and a culture of innovation put this region at the center of the new Next-Shoring movement.
            Organizations like National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, and the TechBelt Initiative focus these efforts in a regional fashion, bringing more federal funding opportunities, spurring these growth opportunities even further. Location is an important focus for these organizations, and the understanding that, for example, shale-gas can be extracted, engineered and supplied all within a hundred mile radius.
This manufacturing resurgence leads to real-estate and development deals that bring with it highly-skilled manufacturing jobs for the future, leading to increased economic growth and higher wages. This type of strategic placement of manufacturing facilities are coupled with the abundance of graduates, more and more being trained for jobs in these growing industries, or building their own companies and products through innovative spin-out programs and availability of new training organizations, like TechShop.
            With so many regions across the country focusing on new, innovative and technology focused industry, the biggest supply issue is workforce. Will the supply of skilled workforce ever meet demand? What do these jobs look like and can education be fully molded to fit the needs of this ever changing and dynamic sector?

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