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February 18, 2013

5 myths about manufacturing jobs

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The best American manufacturers customize products to meet customer needs, reduce the time required to make them and constantly improve their design. Vitamix in Cleveland, for instance, makes specialized blenders that are more expensive than those produced in Asia — but Starbucks buys them because they are quiet and leave few lingering ice chips in Frappuccinos.

4. Manufacturing jobs are repetitive and low-skilled.

If you think of manufacturing as a tedious job with no intellectual stimulation, you haven't visited a U.S. factory floor lately. Whether making steel bars or suits for firefighters, many of today's manufacturing jobs require the ability to operate complex machines, math skills and an understanding of how to maximize efficiency.

No doubt, every job has repetitive aspects. As a lawyer, I can assure you that a lot of document drafting is repetitive, involving cutting and pasting from templates. But the best lawyers bring a unique perspective to the process and anticipate clients' problems. Similarly, the best manufacturing workers are not just doing repetitive tasks; they are thinking about how to improve a product's design or production.

5. Government is terrible at supporting manufacturing.

America has long had a bipartisan consensus favoring government support for private manufacturers. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton argued that the nation should provide incentives and assistance to manufacturers to compete in the world economy. Even Thomas Jefferson came around to the view that government has a stake in building domestic manufacturing.

These principles influenced Herbert Hoover, who before he was president was regarded as a great commerce secretary and provided financial support for the aviation industry. Later, President Ronald Reagan supported Sematech to help our semiconductor industry.

Of course, America's free-enterprise system is what enables our manufacturers to be the most innovative. No one is suggesting that the government pick winners or losers. Some bets on new companies, such as Solyndra, are bound to fail.

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