Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
A place for the latest news on innovations and innovators throughout the Midwest.
We first read about the report in the Washington Post. The basic claim is that manufacturing in this country is not doing nearly as well as advertised. At Changing Gears, we’ve madea lotout of the productivity gains in manufacturing over the past couple of years. According to everything we’ve heard, manufacturing productivity has led the way out of the recession, and Midwest manufacturing has been a major driver of growth.
But the ITIF report provides a blunt challenge to that story line. Some of the claims in the report are controversial, and not widely accepted. But even the federal government now says there could be problems with how it measures manufacturing productivity.
And that could have big implications for the policies our leaders consider in the future.
But when we saw the headline above, from this weekend’s Austin American-Statesman, it just seemed like this strange, long-distance flirting between cities could be the real deal. Detroit and Austin actually have a lot in common – both have great music, both have hipsters and both are pretty weird.
So how about it Austin? Do you want to go steady with Detroit?
This month, we’re taking a look at some of the hidden assets of the industrial Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths.
We found one hidden asset right smack in the middle of our manufacturing sector. It’s a machine that’s in literally thousands of factories across the Midwest. And, though, you might not have heard of it before, the CNC machine – and the people who operate it – are at the core of our economy.
CNC stands for computer-numerically-controlled. And what the computerized machine does is it machines things. That sounds ridiculous unless you know that machine is not just a noun. It’s also a specific manufacturing process.
It’s when you cut away a material. It’s basically commercial sculpting.
“Machining is at, or very close to, the foundation of manufacturing,” says Peter Zelinski, senior editor at Modern Machine Shop magazine.
Here’s what you do: Click on the video, and pop it out to full screen.
As you watch, remind yourself that this is the place they call the Rust Belt. Remind yourself that this is the place that cannot keep its talented young people, because they say it’s too cold. Too uninspiring. Too boring.
What would it look like if you took a platoon of helicopters and airlifted the entire Chicago L system and dropped it on Detroit? It would look like the map you see above. The map was made by a reddit user, who goes by the handle “northsider1983.”
The goal of Changing Gears is to talk about the transformation of our economy in the Midwest, and to prepare ourselves for a brighter future. The time scale we’re usually talking about is in range of decades, maybe a century or two.
But, this morning, we found ourselves thinking about what life could be like in the Midwest 100,000 years from now. The inspiration came from the animation created above by New Scientist.
We’re not scientists around here, but it seems there are some good reasons to be bullish about how the Midwest could fare over the long, long term. We’ve got all this water around us. We do pretty well at growing our own food. And, even though our manufacturing economy has taken a beating in the last few decades, our culture of making things has to be worth something in the grander scheme.
Just for a moment, forget what the next 10 years will look like in the Midwest. Forget about what will happen in your lifetime. Tell us what you think the Midwest will look like a thousand years from now. Then 10,000 years. Then 100,000.
Then, think about what things we can do now to make a difference.
In more than 100 years of manufacturing ingenuity in the Midwest, there have been very few limits. From steamships, to motor cars, to solar panels, people in the industrial Midwest can make almost anything.
So, where is my flying car? Seriously. I’ve been waiting for, like, ever.
Flying cars have been a fantasy for almost as long as there have been cars. Henry Ford reportedly tinkered on a plan. The first car to get regulatory approval for both air and land in the U.S. was in 1956.
Now, here comes news of the Terrafugia Transition, which will have its public debut at the New York Auto Show next month.
That’s why I was pleased to learn that the bank invited a group of people from different cities across the Midwest for a day-long event yesterday to kick off a new project that will look at what works – and what doesn’t – when encouraging economic revitalization.
Among the attendees: representatives from ArtPrize, the annual Grand Rapids public art competition that has brought hundreds of thousands of people to the city’s downtown during the fall event. If you’re not familiar with ArtPrize, here’s some of our reporting on the competition.
ArtPrize’s Brian Burch said the day went well, with lots of analysis and recommendations but a few overarching solutions that are applicable to many industrial cities.
Burch said it also confirmed many of the concepts behind ArtPrize – the idea that a focus on people and creativity foster innovation and economic growth.
“The best things communities can do is invest in education and develop a marketplace of ideas that make it easier for anyone to realize their dreams and take ideas into action,” Burch said.
You can learn more about the Fed’s initiative here.
Last week, we told you about a new show called The Edge Factor. The show is trying to give a view of manufacturing as it exists today: high-tech, challenging and cool. Join us here at 1p.m EST, noon Central time for a live web chat with Jeremy Bout, creator of The Edge Factor.