Fisher prof: Sharper managers, smarter workers fueling manufacturing resurgence

Are far-reaching efforts in the manufacturing sector to maximize efficiency and bolster productivity in the wake of the recession beginning to pay off?

ward, peter
Prof. Ward

Early signs point to yes, Fisher College of Business Prof. Peter Ward told news service Reuters today as President Barack Obama unveiled a new manufacturing hub in North Carolina.

Ward, who also chairs Fisher’s Management Sciences department and serves as director of our Center for Operational Excellence, weighed in on the state of the industry as Obama announced $70 million in federal funding is headed to the Tar Heel State. According to Reuters, it’s aimed at creating one of three soon-to-be-announced hubs of its kind, the first of what the president hopes will grow to a network of 45.

The post-recession resurgence of the manufacturing sector seems to have been a quiet one as other stories have dominated the news cycle. Just last month, the Federal Reserve reported that industrial production in November 2013 finally surpassed its pre-recession peak of December 2007, hovering more than 20 percent above its low point in June 2009.

As Ward tells Reuters, manufacturing employment hasn’t followed suit. Federal data show about 12 million Americans employed in the manufacturing sector at the end of last year, down from 13.7 million when production was last at its peak in 2007. That’s up 5 percent from the last manufacturing employment low in January 2010, but a far cry from the bounce-back in production over the last half-decade.

It’s simple, Ward told Reuters: “Manufacturers are doing more with less.”

And while today showed the Commander-in-chief acting to drive further growth in the sector, Ward said in the story he has a “really hard time putting a causal link between any president and what happens in the manufacturing economy.”

“It’s much more the management and performance of smart managers and smart workers who are out there doing it,” he told the news service.

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