The Editor's Page -- The Birth Of A Manufacturing Industry

Dec. 11, 2000
Genomics represents "the industrialization of medical research," asserts Roy A. Whitfield, CEO of Incyte Genomics Inc.

With the selection of two gene researchers, Francis Collins and J. Craig Venter, as Technology Leaders of the Year, IndustryWeek celebrates the pioneers of a new manufacturing industry: genomics.

Many people may not see the decoding of the human genome as a manufacturing breakthrough; in fact, they might see it as quite the opposite -- proof that manufacturing has run its course, further pushed to the fringes of economic importance by yet another new industry.

But make no mistake: Genomics represents "the industrialization of medical research," as Roy A. Whitfield, CEO of Incyte Genomics Inc., told the Los Angeles Times. While Incyte, based in Palo Alto, Calif., creates databases of genetic information (arguably the quintessential Information Age endeavor) other genomic companies build gene-sequencing computer systems, gene-based drugs, and medical diagnostic tools -- that is, products.

Granted, the new industry will incorporate a huge number of services and information components (two "industries" commonly thought of as having replaced manufacturing as the key economic driver). But much of the service and information will be delivered via a manufactured product.

In this new industry, as in many other high-tech industries, the words of Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric Co., have never been more true. "Without products, you're dead," he says in Jack Welch and the GE Way (1998, McGraw-Hill) by Robert Slater.

The viewpoint of those who doubt IW's perspective on the dawn of genomics is understandable, perhaps. To them, the end of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. and Britain marked the end of manufacturing as the key means to creating wealth. They believe that national economies advance through progressively "higher-level" stages from agriculture, to manufacturing, to information, to, well, the biological age. This has become a widely accepted view in the U.S., and as such is difficult to argue against.

But IW does argue against it.

Our reading of history places manufacturing dead center in a nation's development and advancement. We see each economic era as an evolution in manufacturing. During the agriculture era the development of the cotton gin and the reaper represented the industrialization of agriculture. The Industrial Revolution brought mass production and the industrialization of consumer goods. The invention of the microchip ignited the electronics and computer industries, heralding the Information Age -- the industrialization of communication.

It's not that economic history moves beyond manufacturing to higher levels of economic endeavor. It's that manufacturing continually renews itself with the invention and application of new technologies.

So join us in welcoming Collins and Venter into their rightful places in the history of manufacturing, alongside Eli Whitney, Henry Ford, and Jack Kilby.

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