June 21, 2018
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Manufacturing jobs, not output, have left US

In 2001, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson published a book titled “Untruth: Why the Conventional Wisdom is (Almost Always) Wrong.”

In his Post column April 7, he attacked a familiar piece of conventional wisdom that we all hold near and dear — that our manufacturing economy is largely gone and its successor, a service economy, is not nearly as good.

All myth, says Samuelson.

Citing a Congressional Research Service report, Samuelson argues that U.S. manufacturing output is still the largest in the world, still slightly ahead of China and three times larger than Germany.

The work is still being done, but there are fewer people employed doing it. Far fewer. In 1970 we had 17.8 million manufacturing jobs, and we now have about 12 million.

What’s gone are millions of factory floor jobs. Today one third of all manufacturing jobs are for managers and professionals, he writes.

But the transition has been brutal for places like Maine, places dependent on heavy industry, manufacturing, agriculture, logging and fishing.

Manufacturing companies here seem to be begging for more highly skilled technical workers, and Gov. Paul LePage is intent on filling that gap.

The TD Bank commitment to Lewiston and the Bates Mill complex is an outstanding example of how a factory for bedspreads can be turned into a “factory” producing skilled business services.

Employment in the once-abandoned mill building has climbed to 800 people since 1998, and TD has signed a lease through 2025.

The reality in all this is that while some manufacturing jobs are thankfully returning to the U.S., our economy has entered a different era, and there is no going back.

Lewiston Sun Journal (April 12)

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