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Manufacturing as an Economic Key


Friday November 11, 2016

In the United States, as in other areas of the industrialized world, factories have changed. Many have moved to lower-wage countries, leaving industrial wastelands in their place. Earlier this week, in “Small Factories Emerge as a Weapon in the Fight Against Poverty,” The New York Times focused on one such area in Baltimore. There, Marlin Steel is a success story, maintaining its ground and producing metal baskets for bigger manufacturers such as Ford, Boeing, and Merck.

In his article, Nelson D. Schwartz tells the story of James Branch, who dropped out of high school, sold drugs for 12 years, and ended up in prison. The author credits Branch’s discipline with his ultimate triumph—he earned a GED and completed a metalwork course. But Schwartz also emphasizes the extraordinary power of Marlin Steel to survive and evolve as an urban industrial manufacturer.

“Despite the [US] candidates’ election-year promises, factories will never employ the masses they once did,” Schwartz writes. “Automation and foreign competition will not abate no matter who occupies the Oval Office … but small manufacturers like Marlin are vital if the United States is to narrow the nation’s class divide and build a society that offers greater opportunities for everyone.”

So, what’s Marlin’s secret? Actually, it’s not a secret. The company evolved under the leadership of its owner, Drew Greenblatt. He changed what the company made, going from metal bagel baskets to more specialized metal goods that could command higher prices. Greenblatt bought robots that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and he invested in training his workers to operate those robots. 

The business went from earning $800,000 to $5 million, but the workforce didn’t expand at the same rate. It went from 18 employees to 24. 

News outlets previously have covered Marlin Steel. In fact, I’ve written about the company in Supply Chain Management Now. (See and “Less publicized is how the company’s survival has transformed the lives of its workers, even as the Westport neighborhood around the factory, and other poor sections of Baltimore, remain deeply scarred,” Schwartz writes. Workers at Marlin can earn at least $50,000 a year.

Because of this, “manufacturing bootstraps people out of poverty,” Greenblatt says in the article.

Manufacturing lessons applied to supply chain

To grasp the current state and true potential of manufacturing, take a look at the “Top 20 Facts about Manufacturing,” presented by the National Association of Manufacturers. One fact highlighted is that there are 12.3 million manufacturing workers in the United States—9 percent of the country’s workforce. 

Manufacturing plays a major employment and economic role internationally. Consider that, according to the United Nations, the top 12 countries in value-added manufacturing are as follows: China, the United States, Japan, Germany, Mexico, India, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Brazil, and South Korea. 

Now consider how closely supply chain is associated with manufacturing. For one, supply chain also has great potential as a career, but it requires the right training and education. APICS offers a variety of education, certification, and endorsement programs to enhance your professional career and improve your organization’s bottom line. Whether you need to streamline your supply chain; master the basics of materials and operations management; or build your knowledge in logistics, transportation, and distribution, APICS has the right program for you. Check out the APICS Education Selector to find out how APICS can help you access your true potential as a supply chain professional. 

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