March 20, 2022

A Call to Manufacturing to Revitalize Deindustrialized Communities

Manufacturing leaders have an opportunity to revitalize previously abandoned communities. As manufacturing leaders look to expand or reshore plant operations, they can look to restore formerly deindustrialized areas.
Defining Service and Participation

We continue to explore humanist commitments; last week focused on the need for taking responsibility, and we will be looking at service and participation this week.  A previously shared definition of service and participation is that "I will help my community in ways that let me get to know the people I'm helping."  The approach taken to creating a better community should build on the previous nine commitments that add additional environmental and social awareness of the neighborhoods in which we operate.  We can then use our unique capabilities to create thriving in our internal and external circles of influence.  While there are many directions we could take, our focus will be on the role manufacturing can bring to revitalize deindustrialized communities.

In every community, there is work to be done.  In every nation, there are wounds to heal.  In every heart, there is the power to do it. – Marianne Williamson
First-Hand Experience

My desire to reshape the impact of manufacturing draws on my experience during the 1980s while living in Jackson, Michigan.  Clark Equipment announced it would shut down the local manufacturing plant in 1982.  After 47 years of tire production, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. closed in 1984.  The first ripple was that many direct employees lost well-paying jobs with excellent benefits.  The closures then impacted the job shops, equipment suppliers neighborhood stores, and local restaurants that supported these two plants.  The result for many residents was personal savings dwindling and a town with more service-oriented jobs.  Unfortunately, there was a higher percentage of minimum wage jobs with reduced or zero benefits.  Because Clark Equipment and Goodyear did not consider the community a stakeholder, they never engaged with city leaders to contribute to a diversified economy that could withstand the blow should it ever need to close its plants.  The community is still dealing with the negative impacts of these company departures over 40 years later.

Enrico Hänel from Pexels
Taking the High-Roads

The deindustrialization of communities in the latter portion of the 20th century left many other communities dealing with former manufacturing sites contaminated by hazardous substances, a loss of tax revenue, less earning power, increased social issues, and decaying infrastructure.  However, the manufacturing sector can play a role in revitalizing communities that collectively better regions and the world.  An example of how is by building a High-Roads Industrial Commons, defined as one that explicitly ties rebuilding America's manufacturing base to the revitalization of economically vulnerable or distressed regions and communities across the country."

Key elements of the High-Roads Industrial Commons model are that it achieves the following goals:

1. "retains, restores, and establishes new globally competitive advanced manufacturing and related industrial businesses;

2. retains, restores, and creates family-sustaining jobs for dislocated, incumbent, and young workers;

3. promotes social inclusion and creates economic opportunities for minorities and low-income families to increase their economic and social mobility;

4. targets all left behind, struggling communities and their residents, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or geographical locales (that is, rural, urban, and suburban communities suffering from economic distress);

5. emphasize collaboration and partnerships between critical federal, state, and local government agencies and programs, as well as business, labor, academic, non-governmental, and not-for-profit actors and stakeholders engaged in the commons; and

6. strengthens linkages, breaks down silos, and supports coordination across the activities within the commons."

I propose adopting the model at the local, regional, state, national, and international levels.  Additionally, areas that have seen success in this approach are the Akron, OH area around polymers, and Albany, NY, around semiconductors.  The key players were the company research activities, research universities, community colleges, local government authorities, and start-ups.

Key Takeaway

Manufacturing leaders have an opportunity to revitalize previously abandoned communities.  Work of this type should utilize all the previously shared humanist commitments that emphasize environmental and social awareness of the neighborhoods in which we operate.  We can then use our unique capabilities to create thriving for those beyond the norm of past practices.

Next Step

I encourage those interested in the topic to read the full article Revitalizing America's Manufacturing Communities.  The authors have extensive content that goes into considerable detail regarding their strategy for manufacturing revival and regional economic recovery.

My Gratitude

An example of making this type of impact is that of Nehemiah Manufacturing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The company was founded in 2009 by a team of seasoned Consumer Goods Packaging (CPG) executives with a mission to "make a difference."  Their Founder and CEO, Dan Meyer, leads their work to revitalize the inner city of Cincinnati, one of many that experienced significant economic damage when manufacturing operations left town in the pursuit of cheaper labor.  Additionally, they provide an environment of care and compassion for those who embrace second chances to put their former lives behind them.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will overview the ten humanist principles from the previous weeks.

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit

Cover Image Credit: Christian Thöni from Pexels

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