Factory in the Country

Where do you find some of America’s best and most interesting manufacturing plants? In the middle of cornfields.

Columns From: 4/16/2014 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

Ours is a big and beautiful country. This fact always strikes me as I’m on my way to visit a shop or plant to see how it is using new metalworking technology. If the trip starts out with air travel, it is hard not to notice and wonder at the vast expanses that make up the United States. Frequently, a drive on the interstate highways or two-lane roads completes the journey.

There I am, pulling up to an industrial building that is usually rather new and very tidy, if unadorned on the outside. Before entering, I look around at the local surroundings, and many times, what I see are miles and miles of cornfields. The corn stands tall, green and almost solemn. Of course, it’s not always cornfields that I see. There have been vineyards on rolling hills, scrubby cactus on a dusty desert floor, tall grass and spindly pine trees, or pastures dotted with livestock. To me, however, the cornfields are the most emblematic.

With this image in mind, I am often startled by the array of high-tech manufacturing equipment inside the destination company. Although the cornfields seem timeless, the machines seem futuristic. The folks inside are usually friendly, articulate individuals who are competent, experienced and forward-thinking. They are doing world-class manufacturing in where-in-the-world places.

Here are some of the top reasons why rural/small-town areas seem fertile for these high-tech manufacturing companies:

A strong sense of community. “You know everything about everybody” is a plus in this setting. Coworkers and managers are likely to be relatives, friends, neighbors, old schoolmates or fellow churchgoers. A sense of mutual responsibility encourages teamwork and personal commitment at all levels. People pull together because there is no one else to turn to.

Closeness to the natural world. When so much of the outdoor surroundings is not man-made and seemingly artificial and impermanent, the effect is uplifting, even spiritual. An appreciation for the raw materials derived from natural resources carries over to respect for the environment. It also engenders an understanding that the transformative processes involved in manufacturing do, in fact, create wealth in a tangible way. Moreover, parks, hunting areas and other outdoor attractions are likely to be nearby.

Clarity of purpose. Many of the distractions, complexities and anxieties associated with urban living are missing here. It is easy to see that adding value to raw materials to create products that meet human needs is the unmistakable, essential role of manufacturing in society.

• No lack of connectivity. Digital communication has almost entirely resolved the issue of geographic remoteness. For the most part, a single, common language and culture facilitate business transactions across the country. (There can be challenges to the supply chain, however.)

These reasons point to the fact that the quality of life in rural areas is likely to be high. These are good places to live and work. Factories and families are lucky to call them “home.”

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