"Not everyone wants to make one of these," Hammond said, holding a small milled steel piece that keeps knee replacements aligned. "They don't want to hear, 'I need you to run 4,000 of these today.' "
What Shoun calls the stigma attached to manufacturing runs counter to prevailing sentiments about a sector that has added 500,000 jobs to the economy in the past two years.
Manufacturing Institute President Jennifer McNelly reports that complaints about Chinese-made goods dominate her discussions with cab drivers at every stop she makes in travels across the U.S.
"I constantly hear, 'We don't make anything in this country,' " McNelly said recently at a seminar on new manufacturing in Florissant, Mo.
What many fail to understand, she said, is that today's U.S. manufacturers are by and large not producing clothes, trinkets and mass market items. "We're producing value-added products," she said. "The cars we drive, the airplanes we drive. That's what's driving this country."
Alan Spell, the research manager for the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, joined McNelly in dispelling the notion that U.S. manufacturing has lost its manufacturing edge to China.
"We're not competing for low-skilled products anymore," Spell said in an interview following his presentation to a new manufacturing symposium.
"That ship has sailed. We're competing for customized products that need to get to the market fast."
And maintaining American dominance in the production of big-ticket items remains a high priority. Another Manufacturing Institute survey measured the disconnect between the stated allegiance to U.S. production and actual commitment to the cause.
The poll revealed that 86 percent of Americans believe U.S. manufacturing is "very important to their standard of living," while 79 percent said a strong manufacturing base should be a national priority.
Asked what type of 1,000-job business would be best located in their community, the respondents put manufacturing at the top of the list.
Yet only a third of the same respondents said they would encourage their own children to pursue jobs in manufacturing.
"Americans in general think we need to place a greater emphasis on manufacturing careers. It's a priority. But when they look it as a career for their kids, it's a different thing," said Rod Nunn, vice chancellor for workforce and community development at St. Louis Community College.
"There's a perception that (manufacturing) is dangerous and dirty, when the reality is new manufacturing has more dials and controls than most Nintendos and Game Boys," McNelly emphasized.
Officials say the manufacturing pipeline will continue to run dry, at the nation's peril, unless parents, schools and the industry step up the effort to reverse the message, delivered by two generations, that all children must graduate college to succeed.
Solis said it's imperative for economic sustainability that young people "find their way" to positions in manufacturing.
McNelly says promoting the industry -- as several North Carolina manufacturers did during a recent bus tour of schools there -- is one step in that direction.
But above all else, Shoun says today's middle and high school students need to understand that 21st century manufacturing bears little resemblance to the jobs held by their grandparents following the second world war.
"When you say 'occupational vocation,' the technology of the '60s, '70s and '80s comes to mind," said Shoun. "The reality is that it's all high technology now. We need to do a better job of showing not only kids but their parents as well what it means to be a machinist or an automotive technician -- that it's just as complex as being an engineer."
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