Commentary: The creative working class are bringing American jobs back


Even though tech progress tends to grab more headlines, there’s another “Made in America” story to be told. There’s a harkening back to the days of craftsmanship — and there is a groundswell of interest and entrepreneurship surrounding skills and trades.

Legions of people seek work that calls for the use of their hands. Men and women of all ages crave a job that allows them to create something physically. They want to make their own products.

American making and doing is strong. Maybe it’s the word “manufacturing” that gets misappropriated; we’re inclined to picture smoke-billowing factories and the dusty faces of the overworked and underfed. That’s not what I’m talking about. However, those who say the days of making things in America are days of the past — suggesting robots and artificial intelligence are the new workforce — are missing the magic.

Right here in Austin, iconic global brands like Emerson and Dell are developing revolutionary solutions and technologies. Manufacturing employs more than 12 million Americans, and for every dollar invested in manufacturing, $1.81 is added to the economy, according to data from the National Association of Manufacturers.

American-made footwear is an industry that has declined steadily since the 1930s. Yet, HELM Boots and other shoe companies are succeeding by handcrafting high-quality leather products on machines dating from that very era. Noah Marion, Stash Co. and Cobra Rock Boots are doing contemporary leatherwork with an old-school commitment to American-made goods.

You can shop Shaesby for beautiful jewelry, Roux St. James for fine fragrances, Esby for the perfect casual women’s wear and Keith Kreeger for ceramics. You could clothe and accessorize head to toe, purchasing only from local manufacturers; and you could outfit your home the same way.

These companies are not simply paying homage to a bygone era of American-made goods; they are innovators, creators and entrepreneurs who are passionate about combining the trades of the past with the needs of the present to make products that will fit tomorrow. They’re also proudly putting people at home to work at the same time.

Some eschew technology altogether and do things how their great-great-grandparents would have. There are others — myself included — who not only draw from the past but also seek to integrate new technologies and business models.

Some people will protest that these small enterprises cannot rescue the American economy. They’re wrong. Independent companies have always been our nation’s lifeblood. There are no size requirements on companies turning toward an ethos of craftsmanship. American trailblazers are adopting these principles and inviting a generation of workers into the fold, creating jobs that support families and foster our shared values.

Unemployment is down thanks to such visionaries.

The next challenge will be to demonstrate that our accomplishments don’t need to be fenced in by city limits. We can tap into this manufacturing movement to bring prosperity and growth to areas that need it most.

But to do that, we have to cultivate this emerging manufacturing movement. We desperately need public policy that promotes small business and innovation and rewards well-made items — not just quick-made. We need training and development programs that cultivate an honest and skilled workforce, from traditional trades to cutting-edge technologies.

We need to foster and mentor new leaders and to engage knowledgeable business people and academics in helping us devise new structures and promote collaboration — because it rewards us all.

Most of all, we need investors to buy into the potential of Made in America. My colleagues are creative, hardworking and worth investing in.

We have calloused, dirty hands; we work long hours; we want to create not just things but also jobs and community. And we’ll keep doing it no matter what.

Americans are self-reliant and industrious people — our most valuable asset perhaps being our dignity. We have a built-in need to do work that matters — and work we can touch. But more than any of that, we can — and want — to make the world a better place. We need the support in doing our part.

Joshua Bingaman is founder and CEO of HELM Boots.



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