October 4 is the 7th annual National Manufacturing Day, a day created to celebrate manufacturing and its huge, positive impact on our economy and workforce.
The problem, though, is what we hear and read: we don’t make things in this country any longer. It’s all overseas in China or some other country in Asia, maybe even Mexico. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. We still make things in this country and in this wonderful state. We make many things.
Manufacturing in North Carolina
Manufacturing remains a huge part of North Carolina’s economy through (at a minimum) output, exports, contribution to GDP and employment. You can read more about the statistics here, in Governor Cooper’s proclamation of North Carolina’s Manufacturing Week, and delve deeper into the data here if you are a data geek like I am.
North Carolina is home to many manufacturing companies that make a variety of products (from tortilla chips to microchips as we like to say). The companies that comprise our state’s manufacturing base aren’t only big companies with well-known names such as Caterpillar, Campbell’s and GE Aviation – far from it. Most of the manufacturers are very small with fewer than 100 employees.
These manufacturers, the backbone of our state’s economy, often operate with little fanfare or visibility. Did you know the company that makes the patches for the astronauts is based out of Weaverville and has partnered with NASA for nearly 60 years? Or that one of only two companies in the country that provide parachutes to the Department of Defense and the warfighter is located in Asheville?
Manufacturing All Around You
If you look carefully in your local grocery store and specialty stores – even in the RDU airport! – you can find gourmet food items made in this state. Gourmet nuts, teas, jams, jellies, candies, drink mixes, grits, breading, salsas and BBQ sauces (we love our BBQ!) proliferate. Some of the brands are well known, but many are not and represent the entrepreneurial spirit that keeps NC’s food manufacturing sector strong and may lead to the next big-name brand.
I recently toured Hangar6, a prototyping and design assistance space that is a First Flight Venture Center program. Talk about toiling in obscurity. From the outside, it looked like a couple of sheds and a garage but inside were state-of-the-art machines: 5 different types of 3D printers (including 2 made by Fusion3, a company located in Greensboro), lathes, CNC machines, laser cutters, and many more. Hangar6’s purpose is to provide the opportunity for entrepreneurs and small companies to have a way to affordably develop functional and accurate prototypes for their products before they seek mass production and doing so on the latest technology. 3D Printing (or additive manufacturing) has huge potential to disrupt manufacturing and provide a competitive advantage, and I salute Hangar6 for enabling small business to innovate affordably.
I could go on and on with examples – parts for Toyota and Honda as well as tires are made in this state. Camping gear, bicycles, jeans, bags and even fishing rods are made here too.
So, yes, we do still manufacture in this state. What we do today is amazing, but what we are going to do tomorrow is even better.
Happy Manufacturing Day, North Carolina. And thank you to our thousands of manufacturers who contribute so much.
KeAnne Hoeg is manager of market research and reporting for NCMEP partner NC State Industry Expansion Solutions. Her group is responsible for managing required reporting to stakeholders, several internal applications, including the CRM system, the Manufactured in North Carolina website, knowledge management and data mining. Prior to moving into market research, she worked in IT and marketing as a web developer and social media manager, also at IES. KeAnne has a B.A. in English from Meredith College and a master’s degree in Library Science from UNC-Chapel Hill.