Monday, August 23, 2010

Rebranding Pittsburgh Manufacturing

I'm still thinking a lot about where manufacturing is heading not only in Southwestern PA, but all of the United States. I have been planning another long post on the subject. I fear that I would only rehash much of what I've already written. Instead, I recommend reading Audrey Russo's (President and CEO, Pittsburgh Technology Council) vision for manufacturing in the region. Audrey manages to come across as a booster without resorting to hype. More importantly, she broadens our view of manufacturing.

A good example of such expansive thinking turned up last week in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"The next generation of the workforce coming in, they learn differently. So how do we transfer all this on-the-job knowledge from 30-year veterans?" said Trybus, founder and CEO of Etcetera Edutainment in the Strip District. "It turns out that the systems of good game design parallel very nicely with how people learn."

Etcetera Edutainment and a half-dozen other video game companies in the Pittsburgh region are small, but growing, entrepreneurs say. Many local companies are carving out a niche by applying video game technology to education or job training instead of simply entertainment. ...

... Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and San Francisco are primary cities for the video game industry, but Pittsburgh may be gaining status as an industry hub, said Chris Klug, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.

"Pittsburgh is almost at the point where it's going to be viewed as a secondary city where video game development is being done," Klug said.

As manufacturing becomes more sophisticated and efficient, skill transfer is more difficult. Pittsburgh is leading the way for workforce development in this sector, a nice marriage of past and present. This why I don't think manufacturers are about to pick up and leave the region because of the business climate. There are spillovers that you won't find anywhere else.

If the United States wants to be more export competitive, then I'll bet Pittsburgh will play a major role in realizing that goal. That means more than assembly line jobs. There is a need to make industry more cost effective, which is a demand for talent and technology.

Simply tracking those employed in manufacturing is misleading. Concerning production and market share, how are those numbers changing over time? What other opportunities and synergies are emerging? The view from the PTC:

Opportunities abound in the manufacturing sector, but not in the same way we have viewed them over the years. We are entering a new era of employment in manufacturing. Problem solving, teamwork and applied learning – the same core traits that are required in other areas of the workforce – are essential to the future of manufacturing. People still want to make things. However, to do this successfully, rapid prototyping based on innovative design principles are integral. As we enter this new era of manufacturing, we must build the capacity to leverage regional assets, such as the Marcellus Shale formation. Energy technology solutions designed to capitalize on this formation will depend heavily upon a rejuvenated manufacturing base powered by technology and highly skilled labor.

Cheap power, talent and innovation all describe Pittsburgh's competitive edge in manufacturing. One can be a part of making things without actually making things. That's where I see the most job growth in the near term.

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