I’m in Indiana this week, in part to attend the annual Manufacturing Summit at Purdue, and in part to videotape a number of manufacturing experts associated with Purdue – material that should be available in a few weeks right here
Frankly, it’s like being in another world, and as I sit here thinking about how to describe it, I hardly know where to begin.
This morning, heading over to the opening session of The Summit, I got lost. With no GPS and no map, my only hope was to get directions from a local resident. I pulled up alongside a woman who was just getting into her car and explained my predicament. Instead of giving me directions, she said, “I can take you there,” and had me follow her. It’s another world, at least to a Californian who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But, I think many residents of the manufacturing heartland would have felt they were in another world as well if they had been listening to the morning presentations that I heard, which were heavily documented with statistics, graphs and charts.
Manufacturing is hardly dead in Indiana. In comparison to Michigan, it’s another world.
In fact, one of the common complaints I heard as I chatted with some of the attendees during beaks was the lack of trained workers. (Factoid: The average age of U.S. welders is sixty – that’s the average, mind you – and it’s estimated that the U.S. will be short about 200,000 welders in two years.) On the worker shortage subject, one executive who needed help with PLC machines ultimately solved the problem by hiring several dozen Bosnians. His definition of a foreign competitor has become an Eastern European company that competes with him for skilled workers.
But I digress.
Manufacturing is flourishing in Indiana, and I have to believe that one of the reasons is conferences such as The Manufacturing Summit.
It’s not as though attendees can in one day somehow learn secrets of success that their peers haven’t been able to access. Rather, the conference reflects an infrastructure, in the broadest sense of the term, that supports manufacturing.
Purdue seems to be near the heart of this. As a land grant college, the school is obeying its original charter to tech “mechanics” (among other things, including agriculture), and has an impressive multi-center, multi-building site called Discovery Park that teaches entrepreneurial skills to students, supports research, and engages with external partners.
The State of Indiana plays an important role as well, offering a combination of “tools,” e.g. government agencies that help companies identify opportunities, particularly in non-domestic markets, plus tax incentives of various types.
Finally, the manufacturers themselves – at least the ones in attendance with whom I spoke – seem to share a sense of camaraderie, a “We’re all Hoosiers” spirit.
All is not rosy. There is a prolonged strike that actually added half a percent to the state’s unemployment figures. And, like most states, it’s still losing manufacturing jobs. Still, there’s a lot here that would impress anyone.