The Rockford Files

Manufacturing Our Future

Last month, I discussed what the future of manufacturing in the United States will have to be, if manufacturing in the United States is to have a future; this month, I can say with some certainty that I have seen the future of manufacturing, and it is here in Rockford.

Before you laugh and turn the page, let me hasten to assure you that the caveats I noted last month apply.  The end of manufacturing cannot be production for production’s sake, nor for the sake of ever-greater profits.  In a global economy, in which the United States is competing with countries with low wages and few or no regulations, those are models for failure.  Efforts at increasing efficiency and trimming marginal costs have their limits—some natural, some imposed by government and by the economic expectations of American workers.

Cut marginal costs too much, and your customers may find that, under normal conditions, the heads snap off one out of every ten screws, instead of one out of every hundred.  When that happens, all the brand loyalty that you built up over the years can vanish overnight.  Not only are customers no longer willing to pay a premium for your screws, they may switch to a different, non-Rockford (even non-American) product altogether.  Good luck getting them back: It is a lot harder to introduce a “screw classic,” made with the former tougher (and more expensive) alloy, than it is to return to the original...

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