Yesterday I visited an Atlanta-area fabricator that moved into a new facility two weeks ago. The company name says it all, really: Mitchell’s Specialized Fabrication.
It’s a specialized fabricator of industrial tanks, pressure vessels, and piping run by Scott Mitchell, a no-nonsense, get-it-done manager who doesn’t hesitate to tell you how it really is. About 60 percent of company revenue comes from field service work, the remaining from in-shop fabrication.
His company just installed its first plate roll in a new facility that’s double the size of the fabricator’s previous home, on the other side of Douglasville, Ga. When I arrived, Mitchell was out on the floor operating a Hi-Lo. Equipment needed to be moved, and he didn’t hesitate to step in and help. In the front office, the phones kept ringing. Business is on a tear.
This was indicative of many of my shop visits of late. Cell phones are ringing. Work abounds. Time’s money, and as this recovery picks up steam, there’s more money to be made.
Just as I was touring an Atlanta fabricator, our president was walking through the Master Lock plant in Milwaukee. Manufacturing, it seems, has taken center stage.
But not all are that enthused. Manufacturing orders are flowing in, but manufacturing employment hasn’t skyrocketed the way politicians would like. Worker pay may be respectable, but for some it’s not as high as it once was. As The Huffington Post reported, autoworkers on average make half what they used to make prior to the recession.
Of course, this may be an oversimplification. According to a 2010 wage survey from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, salaries vary widely. The highest welder salary reported made more than $80,000 a year, while the lowest made less than $20,000 (this doesn’t include bonuses or overtime). A full-time checkout clerk in retail may not may much less than $19,380, but I don’t know many clerks who clear more than 80 grand a year.
Regardless, if pay were the only problem, we really wouldn’t hear much about a skilled worker shortage. Newspaper reporters just out of journalism school don’t make much more than a checkout clerk at Walmart. They work nights, pull long hours, and have inconsistent schedules that can make family life difficult. And they have to pay back student loans from a four-year school. Yet we never hear about a writer shortage in this country. Perhaps we have Woodward and Bernstein to thank for that.
For all the complaints about the media, many youth aspire to work for it--perhaps because they read and watch it every day (or at least inadvertently flip channels to a news show). On the other hand, those same youth probably will live out their entire lives not knowing what a turret punch press or a press brake is, even though both machines probably formed the sheet metal transformer box outside the newsroom window.
Without that box, the newsroom wouldn’t have electricity, and neither would the newspaper press. Without manufacturing, the media itself couldn’t exist. Manufacturing is the subtle, humble backbone of society, a modern day Atlas holding up the world. We just can’t function without it.
Therein lies the real power of manufacturing, and it’s what makes me feel lucky coming into work every day.