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Column: Manufacturing is key to U.S. economic success

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There's no shortage of studies and opinions when it comes to discerning the state of manufacturing in the U.S. That makes it difficult to determine how the sector is faring in general, and even tougher to tell how a particular industry is doing—in our case the tire and rubber market.

Depending on whom you listen to, manufacturing is experiencing anything from a true renaissance to barely chugging along. In a recent trip to Detroit, President Obama touted that the nation has created more than 764,000 manufacturing jobs since the end of the Great Recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the manufacturing sector added an average of 16,000 jobs a month during 2014, more than double the 7,000 a month that were gained in 2013.

Statistics, though, can play any number of ways, depending on who is analyzing them. For example, the Alliance for American Manufacturing is keeping tabs on Obama's promise to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs during his second term. The 186,000 manufacturing jobs gained in 2014 puts the tally at 283,000, meaning that more than 700,000 more jobs must be created in the next two years for the president to reach his goal.

A report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said while it's true manufacturing has grown for four straight years, the 520,000 jobs the sector has added over the past three years pales in comparison to the 2.5 million lost between 2007 and 2009.

I'll admit that I'm a big fan of manufacturing. I believe a thriving manufacturing sector is key to the nation's overall economic well being.

I also don't think the remedy lies in one big solution, but a combination of smaller factors. Initiatives like firms increasingly turning to automation to make domestic production of rubber goods more cost-effective.

Foreign investment in the U.S. also is helping to fuel manufacturing growth in the tire and rubber industry. That means not just the foreign-owned tire makers setting up plants here, but firms such as Toyoda Gosei, DTR Group and others continuing to expand here.

And finally, it's the smaller projects that sometimes get overlooked. Like Lavelle Industries expanding two plants in Wisconsin; Apache Inc. adding jobs at its headquarters and factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Gates Corp. expanding a hose plant in Kansas.

So it's important to remember that in judging the health of manufacturing, statistics only tell part of the story.

Meyer is executive editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.