I'm feeling an industrial sort of giddiness today, aren't you?
Why? Why, because it's Manufacturing Day -- that special day when Americans everywhere go out and, well, honestly, I'm not sure what they do.
"Hallmark probably does make some cards for it," says Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison. "I'm sure somewhere there's a 'Happy Manufacturing Day' card."
Actually, Harrison knows exactly what Manufacturing Day is all about. His Silicon Valley town, once home to Apple's (AAPL) Mac plant and today home to world-changing auto builder Tesla's factory, is an unlikely manufacturing powerhouse.
Which gets us to the point: When you think of manufacturing, Silicon Valley is not the first place that springs to mind. Manufacturing conjures up images of places like 1950s Detroit and Pittsburgh and 2013 Shenzhen, China. But unknown to many who live here, production work accounts for 17 percent of the jobs in the valley and the manufacturing plants here produce some of the world's most complex and rapidly evolving products and components.
"Manufacturing really suffers from a brand challenge," says Matt Chwierut, San Jose's economic development innovation officer, who's no doubt out celebrating today.
Last year, that brand challenge led a group of manufacturing policy and trade groups to get together and declare a new holiday. The day focuses on spreading the word that not only is manufacturing alive in the United States, but that the field is producing entry-level jobs, sure, but also highly-skilled, high-paying positions that involve engineering, design, computer programming and supply chain logistics.
And who's the key audience for this charm offensive? Students -- the people who will become tomorrow's workforce. When was the last time you heard a kid say, "When I grow up I want to work in a factory?" When was the last time you heard a parent say, "You know, kiddo, you really ought to look into a career in manufacturing?"
And, so, a key part of Manufacturing Day, and most of this week, in fact, is a series of factory tours aimed at students. About two dozen plants in the Bay Area have opened their doors to students. And Manex and 101MFG, two nonprofits that support manufacturers in Northern California, produced five video tours for students who couldn't make it in person.
"We're really interested in developing this new generation of the workforce," says Gene Russell, CEO of San Ramon-based Manex.
Just how far all this goes in reaching the up-and-coming workforce is hard to say. Those involved with Manufacturing Day locally say it's hard to come by a number of students participating, because there is no central registration system for schools, which presumably would arrange tours directly with participating companies ranging from candy makers to high-tech device producers.
But the message is clear. For instance, consider the video tour of Alter G, which makes anti-gravity treadmills in Fremont, a city where one quarter of working adults work in manufacturing. At one point, the video host is interviewing an intern at the company, who mentions, oh, yeah, he's working on his doctorate in robotics.
Yes! Very smart people work in manufacturing today.
It's all part of fixing that brand problem. And Chwierut says manufacturing's backers still have work to do.
"When people think manufacturing, they think of some scene from 'Lord of the Rings,'" he says, "where people are over anvils with hammers and beating metal and burning trees in the dark cave."
But Silicon Valley's plants are much more likely to look like a sparkling laboratory or a prototyping shop, Chwierut says. The valley is full of relatively small operations churning out rapidly evolving products designed by engineers down the street or down the hall. The close proximity means bugs can be worked out and new designs can be quickly tried out. Intellectual property is safer when it stays in the neighborhood rather than being shipped overseas for someone else to produce.
Those sorts of advantages, as well as a narrowing wage gap with China, explain in part a Brookings Institution finding last year that Silicon Valley had the second-highest concentration of manufacturing jobs among the country's major metro areas. (Aerospace center Wichita, Kan., was No. 1.)
Which, in some ways, especially on Manufacturing Day, is something to celebrate. So, don't just stand there; make something.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.
For more on Manufacturing Day in the Bay Area and to see video plant tours, go to www.mfgdaynorca.org.