Manufacturing Day has become a kind of nationwide explosion of optimism and hope for the industry. It's a time to open the factory doors wide and shout through the streets that we are still here, we are still fighting, we are going to win.
It's exactly my kind of thing.
Leading into this Manufacturing Day, my inbox is jammed full of celebration plans, tour invites, announcements and itineraries. Manufacturers everywhere are celebrating growth and profits, apprenticeship and training programs, millennials and technology. It's enough to make industrial cheerleaders like me absolutely swell with joy.
It's a manufactured holiday, I know. And the sentiments and enthusiasm are manufactured just the same. But this year, the optimism goes beyond the usual rah-rah industry beats of the event. This year, we have data to back it up. Or at least add fuel to the optimistic fire.
For this, one particular project from IW is driving my hope: the 2018 IW 50 Best U.S. Manufacturers.
The IW 50 Best recognizes, as the name suggests, the best public manufacturers in the U.S. Which is easy enough. Spend a minute exploring the list and you get the idea.
But, editorially, this year's list offered us an extremely frustrating puzzle.
The data that calculates the ranking is simple and objective—it provides a definitive list of those companies that meet the criteria we set to qualify as "best."
Making sense of that list is a different sort of challenge.
In the past, this has been easy. In hard times, the oldest and most established companies have dominated the list. In capital-rich times, startups have climbed high. During tech bubbles and oil booms, those companies took the honors.
But this year, there was no easy story to find. It's a balanced mix of old and new manufacturers producing cutting edge and traditional goods. Some are process, some are discrete; some are high tech, some are low. Some rose through acquisition, some through clean profit. It's an insane, hodgepodged mix of industries, markets and sizes.
So, what do we do with this data?
It may be the spirit of Manufacturing Day in the air, it may be my own poisonous sense of optimism, but I take this as a reason to celebrate.
It means we are not in a bubble. It means we're not following some isolated trend. It means the industry isn't being propped up by a couple of hyped, hot markets.
And above all, it means that the manufacturing industry is strong across the board, that companies in any market have room to thrive, room to succeed and equal opportunity to rise to the top.
That's not to say there aren't issues, of course. I'm not arguing that anything is easy or that any problems—from trade to skills to recruitment to technology—are anywhere near resolved. But for now, this data has given me the energy I need to maintain my optimism, the resolve I need to keep up the fight.
Hope is not a plan, I know. And blind optimism is as dangerous as blanket pessimism. But for this Manufacturing Day, I think we all have a good reason to celebrate.