Several years out of college I landed a job as a shipping clerk in a roller bearing factory. Presto, I became a UAW man working for a major GM supplier. The job couldn’t have come at a better time. Recently married and unemployed at the time, the rent and other bills were piling up.
When I was hired, the factory, built in 1947, employed more than 3,000 hourly union workers. Employees’ cars filled the sprawling parking lot whether the sun was shining or not. The factory hummed all three shifts. I worked second shift and each afternoon I punched in to the din of steel parts clanking down rollers and to a sweet oily smell that permeated the building and everything in it. Some cold dark evenings, I wheeled pallets of bearings into empty tractor-trailers. Some days, when small orders arrived, I stayed inside where it was warm. I cherry-picked bearings from bins, boxed them, slapped shipping labels on them and sent them via parcel post or UPS.
After 10 months on the job, I left to take a position as a beat reporter on a local newspaper. It seemed like an exciting thing to do at the time. My first check as a reporter amounted to about half of what I had been taking home as a UAW man. My wife rightfully questioned my sanity. Young love apparently being blind (and, as I now recognize, hopelessly optimistic), she accepted my decision. She took a job as a waitress to help keep us financially afloat.
We still live in a community near the factory and drive by it on occasion. It looks the same, but it’s not the same. The factory now employs just 300 workers, and there’s been talk it will close. The city where it’s located is trying to convince its owners to keep it running.
That’s one small story, admittedly a discouraging one, about the state of U.S. manufacturing. It’s far from being representative of our nation’s manufacturing as a whole, however.
The fact is that the United States remains the world’s largest manufacturer. It accounts for approximately a fifth of global manufacturing output. No other single nation, not even China, comes even remotely close. Of the world’s 500 largest companies, 132 are headquartered in the United States. This is twice that of any other country, multiple sources report.
MST’s Chad Dean, left, and Kevin Corbett test the new Briggs & Stratton 810cc commercial turf engine at the Auburn, Ala., plant.
Photo by Ron Hall.
I am reasonably confident that the United States will remain the world’s powerhouse manufacturer. Also from firsthand experience, I can proudly relate that many of our green industry manufacturers are a big reason why this is so.
I say “firsthand” because I’ve visited some of these U.S.-based companies, and I’ve seen their employees, using state-of-the-art tools and processes, turn out rugged, reliable world-class product.
Within recent memory I’ve had the privilege of visiting Ariens Co. in Brillion, Wis.; STIHL USA in Virginia Beach, Va.; Walker Mower in Ft. Collins, Colo.; Caterpillar operations in Peoria, Ill., and Clayton, N.C.; John Deere in and around Moline, Ill.; and North Dakota-based Bobcat Company.
In every case I was impressed by just how determinedly (and smartly) the teams in these companies worked.
Most recently, I spent an afternoon in the Briggs & Stratton Auburn, Ala., location of the new Vanguard Certified Production Center. This is where the company’s elite Master Service Technicians put together the new 810cc 24 hp and 26 hp commercial turf engines. These highly trained MSTs use direct current (DC) electric hand tools to assemble the new engines. The process produces a detailed record of torque sequences and values, and generates a “torque DNA” for each engine.
Oh, by the way, 85 percent of the engines that Briggs & Stratton manufactures are produced (you guessed it) in the good old U.S.A.
The evidence speaks for itself. As we produce and invest to grow and to improve production (be it in manufacturing or in the delivery of our much-appreciated landscape and lawn services) we create wealth for ourselves as well as delivering tangible, life-enhancing products and services to our customers.
That simple formula works whether we’re a family-owned landscape company or whether, like the companies I’ve mentioned here, our products are used worldwide.
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