The cre­ative work­ing class is bring­ing Amer­i­can jobs back

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Joshua Bingaman is founder and CEO of HELM Boots.

Even though tech progress tends to grab more head­lines, there’s an­other “Made in Amer­ica” story to be told. There’s a hear­ken­ing back to the days of crafts­man­ship — and there is a groundswell of in­ter­est and en­trepreneur­ship sur­round­ing skills and trades.

Le­gions of peo­ple seek work that calls for the use of their hands. Men and women of all ages crave a job that al­lows them to cre­ate some­thing phys­i­cally. They want to make their own prod­ucts.

Amer­i­can mak­ing and do­ing is strong. Maybe it’s the word “man­u­fac­tur­ing” that gets mis­ap­pro­pri­ated; we’re in­clined to pic­ture smoke-bil­low­ing fac­to­ries and the dusty faces of the over­worked and un­der­fed. That’s not what I’m talk­ing about. How­ever, those who say the days of mak­ing things in Amer­ica are days of the past — sug­gest­ing ro­bots and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence are the new work­force — are miss­ing the magic.

Right here in Austin, iconic global brands like Emer­son and Dell are de­vel­op­ing revo­lu­tion­ary so­lu­tions and tech­nolo­gies. Man­u­fac­tur­ing em­ploys more than 12 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, and for ev­ery dol­lar in­vested in man­u­fac­tur­ing, $1.81 is added to the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to data from the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Amer­i­can-made footwear is an in­dus­try that has de­clined steadily since the 1930s. Yet, HELM Boots and other shoe com­pa­nies are suc­ceed­ing by hand­craft­ing high-qual­ity leather prod­ucts on ma­chines dat­ing from that very era. Noah Mar­ion, Stash Co. and Co­bra Rock Boots are do­ing con­tem­po­rary leather­work with an old-school com­mit­ment to Amer­i­can-made goods.

You can shop Shaesby for beau­ti­ful jewelry, Roux St. James for fine fra­grances, Esby for the per­fect ca­sual women’s wear and Keith Kreeger for ceram­ics. You could clothe and ac­ces­sorize head to toe, pur­chas­ing only from local man­u­fac­tur­ers; and you could out­fit your home the same way.

Th­ese com­pa­nies are not sim­ply pay­ing homage to a by­gone era of Amer­i­can-made goods; they are in­no­va­tors, cre­ators and en­trepreneurs who are pas­sion­ate about com­bin­ing the trades of the past with the needs of the present to make prod­ucts that will fit to­mor­row. They’re also proudly putting peo­ple at home to work at the same time.

Some es­chew tech­nol­ogy al­to­gether and do things how their great-great-grand­par­ents would have. There are oth­ers — my­self in­cluded — who not only draw from the past but also seek to in­te­grate new tech­nolo­gies and business mod­els.

Some peo­ple will protest that th­ese small en­ter­prises can­not res­cue the Amer­i­can econ­omy. They’re wrong. In­de­pen­dent com­pa­nies have al­ways been our na­tion’s lifeblood. There are no size re­quire­ments on com­pa­nies turn­ing to­ward an ethos of crafts­man­ship. Amer­i­can trail­blaz­ers are adopt­ing th­ese prin­ci­ples and invit­ing a gen­er­a­tion of work­ers into the fold, cre­at­ing jobs that sup­port fam­i­lies and foster our shared val­ues.

Un­em­ploy­ment is down thanks to such vi­sion­ar­ies.

The next chal­lenge will be to demon­strate that our ac­com­plish­ments don’t need to be fenced in by city lim­its. We can tap into this man­u­fac­tur­ing move­ment to bring pros­per­ity and growth to ar­eas that need it most.

But to do that, we have to cul­ti­vate this emerg­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing move­ment. We des­per­ately need public pol­icy that pro­motes small business and in­no­va­tion and re­wards well-made items — not just quick-made. We need train­ing and de­vel­op­ment pro­grams that cul­ti­vate an hon­est and skilled work­force, from tra­di­tional trades to cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies.

We need to foster and men­tor new lead­ers and to en­gage knowl­edge­able business peo­ple and aca­demics in help­ing us de­vise new struc­tures and pro­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion — be­cause it re­wards us all.

Most of all, we need in­vestors to buy into the po­ten­tial of Made in Amer­ica. My col­leagues are cre­ative, hard­work­ing and worth in­vest­ing in.

We have cal­loused, dirty hands; we work long hours; we want to cre­ate not just things but also jobs and com­mu­nity. And we’ll keep do­ing it no mat­ter what.

Amer­i­cans are self-re­liant and in­dus­tri­ous peo­ple — our most valu­able as­set per­haps be­ing our dig­nity. We have a built-in need to do work that mat­ters — and work we can touch. But more than any of that, we can — and want — to make the world a bet­ter place. We need the sup­port in do­ing our part.

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