Manufacturing in R.I., Chapter 4: Toward a Flatter Future

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by | Jan 26, 2015

Tom Friedman, author of “The World is Flat,” told us in 2005 about a fast-moving economic platform, accelerated by information technology advances, which created an environment in which it’s easy to source talent and do business globally.

That is great, right? But really, what does it all mean?

“The World is Flat” tells us to stay ahead of trends like technology-based sharing in order to take advantage of a global manufacturing economy. I talked about Rhode Island’s previous manufacturing losses in earlier editions, and identified signs that point toward a recovery in this area. Let’s take a look at and how we move forward now that the world is flatter.

The Boston Consulting Group released a study that includes the Global Manufacturing Cost-Competitiveness Index. The index was created to illustrate shifts in relative national manufacturing costs.

The results of this study caused companies to rethink decades-old assumptions about sourcing strategies.

Mexico and the United States were categorized as “Rising Global Stars,” with improved costing structure due to low wage growth, sustained productivity gains, stable exchange rates and a big energy-cost advantage. That is certainly a different spin on our flat world from 2005.

The Manufacturing Renaissance Collaborative here in Rhode Island is creating a flatter state by connecting local buyers and sellers. The group brings together Polaris MEP, the R.I. Commerce Corporation, the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and the John H. Chafee Center for International Business to create a culture of sourcing locally rather than going overseas for components that could be made here. The result is often lower costs and reduced logistics complexity.

Now this is sounding good. We have data that says we are in a position to compete globally. We have tools here in Rhode Island that help us source, and resources like the Chafee Center to help export. But is this real?

Well, the Warwick-based manufacturer Quick Fitting Inc. was instrumental in the recently approved Rhode Island EB-5 Regional Center, which is designed specifically for funding “Made in the USA” manufacturing projects that create jobs within the state.

The center’s initial project will fund $20 million toward Quick Fitting’s Made in the USA initiative and create more than 680 permanent jobs within Rhode Island. This type of initiative leverages the flat world to benefit our manufacturing community.

Yes Mr. Friedman – the world is now flat, and the United States needed to adjust strategies in order to compete. We now better understand the lessons learned from the globalization process, and I look forward to enjoying the manufacturing growth here resulting from our new vision in this flat world.

Upcoming chapters will look at:

  • The maker-community influence.
  • Military and defense-industry growth.

Christian Cowan is center director of Polaris MEP, the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation’s federally funded, statewide manufacturing business resource. He can be reached at ccowan@polarismep.organd (401) 270-8896, x413. This is the first in a six-part series on the Rhode Island manufacturing landscape.

Post also published on Providence Business News.

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