Bill Szilagyi
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The Global Manufacturer: When Industrial Achievement Was Etched in Stone

Oct. 1, 2013
A message writ large about manufacturing and industry deserves our attention.

IndustryWeek's offices are in the heart of Cleveland, a Midwest city in the process of reinventing itself. Just a couple blocks from our building, the city has opened a $465 million convention center and a Global Center for Healthcare Innovation designed to showcase new medical and information technologies. City officials abhor being identified as part of the Rust Belt and so there is much focus on the "new economy."

"Cleveland is a great city," Mayor Frank Jackson states on his home page. "Through the years, we have built world-renowned institutions including our orchestra and our museums. We support nationally recognized sports teams. Our medical and research facilities have created a health care capital in Cleveland and our colleges and universities attract researchers and students from around the world."

See Also: Global Manufacturing Economy Trends & Analysis

I tend to think there is a connection between the recent history of the city's sports teams and the need for our advanced medical resources, but that is a topic for another day. No less disturbing, I believe, is the lack of mention of manufacturing and its vital role in the region on the mayor's page. After all, Ohio is the third-largest manufacturing state in the nation in terms of gross domestic product. Manufacturing is the largest sector in Ohio's economy, accounting for 16% of GDP. Ohio's manufacturing sector employs 667,000 people, nearly 13% of the state's workforce.

Team NEO, an economic development organization, recognized the importance of manufacturing to the greater Cleveland area this past February when it issued a report praising manufacturing's role in helping the local economy recover from the recession. It states that manufacturing will be "one of the primary drivers of the economy going forward." The report noted that manufacturing GDP in the Cleveland area was projected to grow 39% from 2010 to 2020, to a $43 billion level, outpacing expected national growth during that period of 33%.

The sleek new convention center is a welcome addition to the local economy, but when I walk through the park that sits across from it, my attention keeps turning to the message on another building. Public Auditorium opened in 1922, heady days for this city. Cleveland was the fifth-largest city in the U.S. and Public Auditorium, part of an ambitious downtown development plan, was the largest structure of its kind in the nation. The main hall could seat 11,500 people and played host to the 1924 Republican convention.

Chiseled into the limestone sides of Public Auditorium in large letters is a dedication of the building by Cleveland's citizens to "social progress, industrial achievements and civic interest." There is no such proclamation on the new building across the street, but I think the optimistic spirit that put that message on Public Auditorium is to be admired.

Industrial achievement recognized the role of manufacturing and leaders such as John D. Rockefeller and Charles F. Brush in propelling Cleveland's prosperity. By 1929, just seven years later, the value of the city's manufacturing "was nearly 120 times what it had been in 1860… and the population of Cuyahoga County in the same period had leaped 25-fold, from fewer than 48,000 to over 1.2 million," writes David C. Hammack in "The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History."

In 1922, manufacturing was certainly dirtier and more physical than its current advanced technology progeny, but it was integral to an increasingly prosperous present and a promising future. Through thousands of products, it was changing the way Americans lived -- for the better. Manufacturing was indeed an achievement that was closely integrated with the social progress of Americans and civic interest in bettering their communities. 

Keep up with news on manufacturing in developed and emerging markets at The Global Manufacturer blog (

For too many years, for too many reasons, it has been fashionable not to proclaim the benefits of manufacturing in public as Cleveland's leaders did in 1922 but to hide it like a poor relative. It's time to join with President Obama and many others who recognize that manufacturing is part of our future, not a relic of our past. It's something to be proud of -- innovative, productive, entrepreneurial. It's all over IndustryWeek's home page. It would be a good sign if it was on some others. 

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