After being dismissed as headed for an “inevitable and irreversible” death, American manufacturing is rebounding but this upswing is “fragile and its outcome is still quite uncertain,” Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical Co. (IW 500/22), told a manufacturing conference today in North Carolina.

U.S. manufacturing has created more than 500,000 jobs since 2010, Liveris told the @Manufacturing Works forum sponsored by NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues. In North Carolina, high-tech manufacturing in fields such as medicine, biotechnology and aerospace has been growing. Over the last year, U.S. manufacturers have announced more than 100 new investments nationally totaling more than $96 billion.

But along with these “encouraging signs,” Liveris told the conference, there are also several factors that are creating a drag on manufacturing growth. He cited uncertainty, “the constant enemy of business and investment,” caused by a gridlocked Washington, a debt-burdened Europe and a still-to-be-defined China. He noted that manufacturing employment has leveled off. In North Carolina, the state lost 115,000 jobs but has gained only 11,000 since the recession.

The manufacturing sector is reaching an inflection point, Liveris said, where this renaissance can “usher in a new era of American prosperity or we can let the resurgence taper off, job growth flatline and the sector fall prey to a policy vacuum where our policy is not to have one.”

Liveris lauded the “transformative” power of manufacturing. He said it could power the U.S. from an “economy in recovery to an economy renewed and leading the world.” He cited a report by the Boston Consulting Group that the nation could create 5 million manufacturing jobs by 2020. And he noted, those jobs could result in the creation of an additional three to five jobs each in the supply chain. He also pointed to manufacturing’s strength in exporting and in the growth of productivity.

“When natural gas is not exported or burned for energy but instead used as an ingredient in manufacturing processes, it creates eight times more value across the economy and five times the number of jobs in the supply chain,” Liveris said.

Liveris emphasized he was not describing the manufacturing of smokestacks and assembly lines of a bygone era but rather advanced manufacturing that lives at the “intersection of all the sciences” and provides “highly qualified, highly skilled, highly paid jobs” involved in creating groundbreaking products and meeting some of the world’s greatest challenges.