Rural America And Manufacturing

Though I grew up on a farm and, at one time, was chairman of the New York State Assembly’s Agriculture Committee — it has always been my opinion that manufacturing was the backbone of our local economy here in upstate New York and across rural America. As a recent article in the New York Times (December 15) stated: “manufacturing employs about one in eight workers in the country’s 704 entirely rural counties…more than agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining combined.”

Can you imagine our local economy without the jobs being provided by companies like Cummins, SKF or the ice cream and juice plants in Dunkirk? More importantly, what would rural America look like without the hundreds of family-owned automotive related suppliers, food processing plants, metal and machine shops which dot the landscape of our country? It is the manufacturing sector which drives job creation in rural America.

What are we to do then as “agglomeration” takes over the economy and high tech focuses more and more on large urban areas rather than rural America?

I am not an expert in all of this, but I would think one answer is that we in rural America need to “double-down” on manufacturing and do what we can to make it as tech-savvy and productive as possible. We are never going to be a headquarters for Amazon or Google, but we are and can continue to be the backbone for American manufacturing.

Recently, I attended a Christmas Party of the office staff and management of a metal manufacturing company in Jamestown. (The whole truth is that because this company was started by my wife’s family, I have been attending this party for over 45 years.) It had been a good year and so there was an especially upbeat atmosphere.

Yet, what impressed me most were the number of young people who were there.

They were sharp. Some college trained, some with Associate Degrees from our community college, some trained by having worked in other manufacturing businesses. But, my overall sense in speaking with them was that they liked their jobs, they liked living in a small, upstate rural county like ours, and that they knew that staying ahead of or at least on a par with their competitors was important for the future of the company and their own livelihood.

The message I was receiving from these young people is that we can still compete in manufacturing by working hard and by applying the latest and best technologies. We may not be Silicon Valley, but we must have connections to it and applications from it if manufacturing in America is to survive and prosper.

Manufacturing is a value-added business. It is creating something, selling whatever that is for a profit and, in the process, employing people. We won’t survive economically on a service-only economy — by giving haircuts to each other. We need value-added businesses and commerce.

Fostering and preserving a viable, profitable manufacturing sector is critical in the fight to save rural America.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.