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To save American manufacturing, rebrand it (and go local)

Allison Arieff writes that manufacturing needs a heavy dose of branding to rekindle the fire in the eyes of American consumers. The way to do it: go local.

Manufacturing in the United States is far from dead, but it could use a salesman to reinstate its value in the eyes of American consumers.

Former Dwell editor-in-chief Allison Arieff writes in the New York Times this week that manufacturing should look to the recorded music, publishing and technology industries -- yes, those first two aren't lost on me, either -- as a way to embody constant evolution.

Manufacturing has too-staid an image, she writes, and it needs to rethink the way it does business and how it explains itself to the world.

There are many parts of this country where manufacturing is very much alive, albeit in a different form. The monolithic industry model — steel, oil, lumber, cars — has evolved into something more nimble and diversified. As this country continues to figure out how to crawl out of its economic despair, we could benefit from focusing on the shift.

Her essay, entitled "The Future of Manufacturing is Local," outlines -- primarily through interviews with manufacturers in her hometown of San Francisco -- the major considerations of a modern manufacturer.

Among them:

  • Heritage matter to consumers. Maintaining a connection with your environment helps convey and retain authenticity. "You’re not there solely to make money," says baker Jamieson Leadbetter in the essay. "You’re there to play a larger role."
  • Sustainability is key. If you're in it for the long-term, efficiency -- from materials to talent to the production line -- is essential. "To fuel economic growth, marketers replaced longevity with planned obsolescence — and our mastery of technology has given birth to ever-accelerating unplanned obsolescence," says Rickshaw Bagworks CEO Mark Dwight in the essay.
  • Know what you're selling. It might be bags or brew or bicycles, but your product is really a cog in a bigger wheel. "[The] number one thing we do,” SFMade's Kate Sofis says in the piece, “is facilitate new connections.”

Good points, all. (I wonder: what happens when a company goes public and is suddenly pressured to keep growing?)

The real challenge, I think, is in uniting disparate consumer desires: we'd all like an intimate, valuable consumer experience from a local retailer -- but other times, we just want some consistent, faceless, corporate coffee to go. (Voila: the Starbucks problem.)

Or is it us, the consumers, who should change?

Photo: Craftsmanship and commerce: "Man Full of Trouble Porter Bread," a collaboration between Philadelphia's Dock Street Brewery and Metropolitan Bakery.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com