Technology startups dominate the headlines. Yet there are still many other industries that continue to power this country behind the scenes. Some have dismissed manufacturing in the U.S. as a dying industry, but changes are already underway. For example, places like the so-called Rust Belt are finding innovative ways to keep manufacturing alive. This include many family-owned manufacturing businesses.
Foreign investment is focusing on such areas, and domestic companies are bringing their manufacturing plants back home. This creates opportunities for freelancers and startup organizations to be part of a new growth industry. Similarly, those in manufacturing can invest in new technology and leverage gig workers to help scale up their operations.
The Return of U.S. Manufacturing
In a Century Foundation report on why manufacturing jobs should be saved, statistics show that these jobs and the development of new ones in this industry are part of what has helped the U.S. economy recover after the 2008 financial crisis. The report found that manufacturing has grown, regaining 945,000 jobs from 2010 to 2017. Subsectors now account for 52.6 percent of national manufacturing jobs as of January 2017. These include such as transportation, machinery, food products, and chemicals.
The report also noted that foreign investment is increasing, indicating that others outside of the U.S. see the benefits of investing in this industry. In fact, “real foreign direct investment in manufacturing surged to $243 billion in 2015, up from $117 billion in 2007.” While foreign investment is coming from many countries, “China alone will invest $2 trillion overseas in the next 10 years. Much of that is destined for new manufacturing plants here in the U.S.”
Greasing the Wheels of Investment in the Rust Belt
That said, it’s not just foreign investors who see the potential of the Rust Belt. As an established leader in the middle-market investor market, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Blackford Capital is a national private equity firm focused on investor satisfaction. In looking for deal sourcing opportunities, the firm has turned its attention to the Rust Belt, and particularly to middle-market — often family-owned — manufacturing firms.
According to Jeff Johnson, Blackford’s managing director, such investment opportunities are mutually beneficial. “Family businesses can benefit from PE firms’ expertise in the areas of strategic planning, financial management and controls and shoring up companies for sustained success,” he observes. “Most PE firms maintain relatively small portfolios, so they can invest significant resources into engaging their companies and working with them on value creation and long-term planning.”
New Opportunities to Make Money
In a 2017 article in American Affairs, author Carolyn Campbell describes a wide range of viable reasons for investing in the Rust Belt, citing factors like “abundant, affordable energy and the nation’s freshwater supply (shielded from oceanic natural disasters like hurricanes), as well as human capital.” She also mentions the Rust Belt’s renowned colleges and universities, full of future talent to drive manufacturing growth with their innovative ideas, as well as its abundance of affordable commercial and residential real estate.
And indeed, innovation is bubbling up in many Rust Belt cities. The same article notes the new methods for commercializing synthetic materials being advanced in Akron, Ohio. Its Polymer Training Center has 700 graduate students working on research. Numerous other cities are following suit, and investors can realize a sizable return from the potential technological disruption.
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, New York, General Motors Corp. is investing $328 million in two Buffalo Niagara factories. Along with Sumitomo Rubber and General Mills, the automaker is committing to major factory upgrades in the area. These investments illustrate the manufacturers’ confidence in the region. It also shows they understand the Rust Belt has long-term opportunities for growth.
Keeping Wealth at Home
Numerous other manufacturing companies are bringing their jobs back to the U.S., signaling that it’s time to reinvest in the Rust Belt again. Companies see the benefits of delivering goods at a faster rate to consumers. And, with ever-higher consumer expectations, they don’t want to wait for overseas manufacturers to deliver the goods. Even new industries like robotics are setting up shop and helping to add jobs for new skilled workers.
On all counts, it’s time to find ways to build up and make money in those communities that have been the backbone of this country. This starts with returning to the heartland industries that created a healthy economy at home. Investing in these manufacturing subsectors can ensure the wealth stays here well into the future.