Why manufacturing matters in economic development

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By Richard K. Blackwell

Economic development professionals, for the most part, are very analytical people.

Metrics. “Big” data and trends. Location factors. Those are the sort of measurables we talk about when it comes to creating economic progress. Except when it comes to manufacturing. That is when people in economic development start to sound like a cross between the most cliché riddled football coach ever mixed with an Ernest Hemingway wannabee writer.

We toss out phrases and outdated notions such as buffalo hunting. Chasing the great whale. Lack of skilled employees. Jobs are vanishing. Robots performing tasks like out of a “Jetsons” episode.

Of course, all of these clichés are based on parcels of truth. It is hard to bring in large manufacturing companies ala buffalo hunting and whale fishing. There is a greater demand for skilled employees, but smart companies can train people and South Carolina is working hard to bridge the skills gap.

As for jobs vanishing, it is really that jobs are changing. The jobs are more skilled, but they are there in great force.

Manufacturing still generates more economic activity than any other sector. For every dollar of domestic manufacturing created, another $3.60 is generated elsewhere across the economy. For every job created in manufacturing, there are 3.4 jobs created in other sectors. Manufacturing drives business like nothing else out there.

American manufacturing alone is the world’s eighth largest economy. The American standard of living depends on the continued success of our manufacturing sector. It is what sustains other industries.

Manufacturing is Oconee’s largest employment sector with more than 6,000 workers. We have over 60 different industries represented here, creating products as diverse as plastic wrap for food producers, to battery cases and engine valves for the automotive suppliers in our area. Through our 60 plus industries, we are plugged into a vast network of 17.4 million manufacturing employees who collectively produce 2.09 trillion dollars for the U.S. economy. That’s an impact to be proud of.

In addition, manufacturing drives technological innovations — the industry accounts for over two-thirds of all commercial research and development, which is key to technological innovation and the creation of new, greener products and manufacturing processes. Advanced manufacturing, which is the production of complex, specialized, technologically advanced devices and products,  requires skilled labor, pays well and will help the county fill a gap in the state’s burgeoning innovation sector.

That is why economic development still needs to focus on growing and encouraging manufacturing from large to small, from traditional to advanced. That base helps communities grow.



Richard K. Blackwell is the executive director of Oconee Economic Alliance, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for citizens of Oconee County by encouraging a diversified economy that attracts industrial and commercial investment and fosters retention of existing business and industry. To learn more visit


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