Many in government wrongly believe Boston can’t become a manufacturing hub
US manufacturing is not dead.
Intel announced plans to invest up to $100 billion in a chip plant in Ohio and $20 billion for a plant in Arizona.
However, unlike other cities, Boston does not have an urban manufacturing strategy and continues to forgo these economic, workforce, and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Our policy should be invent it here, build it here— we manufacture in Massachusetts what we invent in Massachusetts. Thus, we link the growing demand for white-collar innovation jobs with blue-collar manufacturing jobs, growing blue-collar jobs in the state.
Doing that, we will attract opportunities to manufacture products developed throughout New England, the Northeast, and across the country. That will bring much-needed jobs to those who have employment challenges, e.g. their industry has restructured and they are unemployed, underemployed, need to upskill or reskill, have CORIs, or can’t or don’t want to pursue a traditional, four-year secondary education.
[Also read: “An interview, an author, and 500 local innovations”]
A two-part strategy
First, as manufacturing becomes increasingly “smarter” or high-tech (incorporating AI, machine learning, IoT, robotics, and advanced materials), it plays into Massachusetts’s strengths. We can use these technologies to manufacture advanced products in life sciences, specifically biotech, cleantech, and other high-tech components. To support this, we need to train the next generation of knowledge workers to meet the needs of advanced manufacturers.
When we think of knowledge workers, we think of software and service jobs. We need to think of knowledge workers in advanced manufacturing, where skilled workers use technologies such as coding, robotics, AI, Machine Learning, and IoT. There is a large and growing shortage of workers who have these skills.
Second, we can provide the necessary support to help traditional manufacturers transition to advanced manufacturing. Manufacturers need to innovate and adopt smart technologies to remain competitive, improve margins, and manufacture next-generation products, where Massachusetts plays a leading innovation role.
Workforce issues are one of the top reasons companies choose to manufacture in another state. We can provide existing manufacturers technical support to transition to faster-growing and higher margin advanced manufacturing markets. Imagine if every manufacturer in the state could hire an additional person; it would lead to thousands of new hires.
Boston’s current workforce development strategy targets lower-wage jobs in culinary, hospitality, and some higher paying healthcare fields. We should be thankful for those jobs, but with the exception of medical/healthcare, they often do not provide a clear career path to the middle class. Jobs in advanced manufacturing provide a clear pathway to the middle class, with median salaries around $60,000 and workers can make over $100k with overtime and profit sharing.
By linking our leadership in innovation with manufacturing, we would have a competitive advantage relative to other areas in the country that don’t have a high-tech innovation cluster. By providing and being competitive in the complete innovation cycle, from invention to manufacturing, the city and state would maximize tax revenues.
The benefits of Massachusetts manufacturing
Some dismiss Boston as a manufacturing hub because of the prohibitive costs of real estate, labor, healthcare, energy, and taxes. But they are thinking of another era of dark, dangerous, and dirty manufacturing in which large greenfields are needed to build auto and steel plants, a time before most jobs moved to Mexico, China, and other low-cost labor countries.
Advanced manufacturing does not include commodity manufacturing that can quickly be shipped offshore, and the manufacturing of computer chips, and pharmaceuticals, require a clean, if not a sterile, manufacturing environment.
Responding to the higher Massachusetts cost basis, advanced manufacturers make products that are high value-added, have high margins, and are very price inelastic. They can easily absorb the higher manufacturing cost in Boston. Massachusetts leads in biotech, but not in biomanufacturing. The six largest employer states in drug and pharmaceutical manufacturing include California, New York, and New Jersey, hardly known as low-cost manufacturing states.
Advanced manufacturing companies do not require a large footprint. The businesses often consist of 10 employees or less, and the footprint can be as small as the size of a house, making them ideal for the many vacant lots and abandoned buildings in Boston. The lack of manufacturing growth within the city shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent. Everyday, thousands of workers commute into Boston for work. Residents from communities of color could just as easily commute to high paying employment outside of the city.
Manufacturing will become increasingly automated to increase productivity. This will reduce low-wage labor jobs and increase the demand for high wage, advanced manufacturing, and knowledge worker jobs, as workers are needed to manufacture, code, maintain and repair robots and other high-tech equipment.
We have no choice
According to the state’s own Future of Work report, “as automation and digitization accelerate within the workplace, adoption of technology will lead to significant job losses in Massachusetts.” The report, released by the Baker administration in 2021, adds, “approximately 900,000 to 1.2 million gross jobs in the Commonwealth will be lost due to automation. This technological revolution described as ‘Industry 4.0’ has had and will continue to have uneven effects, both for employees and employers. An increasingly automated workplace is disproportionately displacing women, Black, and Hispanic workers. Such workers are over-represented in job positions that will require significant reskilling or upskilling to keep up with current technological trends. Workers of color are also historically underrepresented within the education and workforce development sectors.”
All of the above considered, there are many advantages to pursuing Advanced Manufacturing opportunities in Mass:
Manufacturing opportunities. Some manufacturers are forgoing growth opportunities because they don’t have the necessary trained workers; others would transition to advanced manufacturing if they had assistance in “de-risking” the purchase of complex, expensive equipment necessary for the transition.
Workforce development opportunities. Opportunities for careers that lead to the middle class for those who can’t or don’t want to get a traditional secondary education because of the cost, fear of debt, or family situations or feel the need for immediate or near-term employment.
Entrepreneurship opportunities. From design to prototyping, from making aerospace parts or jewelry. Digital fabrication bridges engineering and manufacturing, and “democratizes” the process; almost anyone can do it. Advanced manufacturing techniques lend themselves to creative, artisanal uses.
Doing it right
Other cities, seeing the opportunity, have built their own advanced manufacturing centers such as Buffalo Manufacturing Works, Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, LIFT, Detroit, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing CCAM, and Connecticut Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM).
Pittsburgh’s universities are helping that city take a leadership role in advanced manufacturing. Carnegie Mellon University’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI) and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute are part of its effort to leverage its research and development of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, materials science, and 3D printing. These and other initiatives make Pittsburgh a top-tier city for advanced manufacturing.
There are advantages to manufacturing in urban areas such as Boston:
Large local labor pools. Being in a densely populated area provides a larger pool of workers to recruit and train. It provides more educational opportunities for workers who want to continue their education.
Transportation. Urban areas have more transportation options. Workers can often walk, bike, Uber, or take public transportation to work, making inclement weather a less likely disruption to production.
Supply chain integration. COVID reminded companies of the importance of being co-located or closer to R&D and design, which helps create a more integrated supply chain. Benefits include a shorter time-to-market and lower logistical costs.
Diversity in Technology
The authors of Designing Reality say digital fabrication is the next or third revolution where the digital world and physical worlds converge. Today, learning digital fabrication provides an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next big technology revolution, especially in advanced manufacturing. Digitization will transform manufacturing like it has transformed other industries such as media, financial, and travel, among others.
Amazon.com was founded almost 25 years ago. Since then, millions of those from the tech sector have gone on to become millionaires and some billionaires. Few people of color were able to get in on the ground floor of the Internet revolution, because computers were slow getting to urban schools. Decades later and despite the best efforts of high-tech companies, they have not been successful in increasing the diversity in their industry. This is an important lesson to be learned—it is important to incorporate diversity from the beginning of a new industry or risk the industry never being diverse. We need to ensure communities of color are trained in these revolutionary technologies, so they can become workers, founders, or investors.
The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) is moving its campus to a new 68,000 sq. ft. facility in Roxbury. It is the life science training partner for Nubian Square Ascends, which will build 200,000 sq. ft. of office, lab, and medical space in its new mixed-use development. This property could be ideal for building an advanced manufacturing center of excellence focusing on manufacturing and 3D bioprinting.
Biomanufacturing can rapidly scale manufacturing capabilities for vaccines and other medical countermeasures (MCMs), accelerating therapy development for orphan diseases by improving the cost-efficiency of small-scale manufacturing processes. Bioprinting can apply to various areas, including regenerative medicine, 3D cell culture, tissue engineering, and tissue transplantation.
An Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) would bridge the gap between R&D and manufacturing implementation, and serve as an extension and complement to internal manufacturing and engineering teams.
The objective is to lower the risk at every step of adopting modern technologies or processes, from conception to implementation.The AMC would partner with organizations such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) to ensure we provide recognized credentials.
Furthermore, the AMC would provide students with real-world manufacturing problems, bringing manufacturers the most current research, thought leadership, technical assistance, and technology transfer. The AMC would be one part of the advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Greater Boston, and would be part of both an urban manufacturing strategy, which Boston doesn’t currently have, and a new complementary workforce development strategy that would help Boston’s workers who most need a path to the middle class.
Such an advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Boston would also benefit manufacturers, workers, and students from the metropolitan area. Through this, we can build Boston as a manufacturing technology center and provide a clearer pathway for struggling employees to the middle class.