September 2012

September 2012

During our year of work together on Investing in Gen Z, many of us laughingly reminisced about owning eight track tapes and thinking a tweet was a type of bird vocalization. Perhaps we missed a more generation-defining moment – what we experienced on our first visit to a factory.

For decades, manufacturing was a recognized cornerstone of our state’s economy. Large factories and assembly lines offered jobs to many, and the state made a name for itself in the sector. As manufacturing companies moved overseas or replaced workers with technology in recent decades, however, we mistakenly began to view manufacturing as a dying industry. Parents encouraged their children to “stay away from the factory floor” and choose career paths in “knowledge” jobs tied to the digital economy.

But manufacturing isn’t dying, at all. Instead of being replaced, manufacturing has used the digital economy to transform itself.

Across North Carolina, highly skilled workers and robots are building products today more efficiently and creatively through new technologies. Companies no longer rely primarily on internal talent, but integrate themselves horizontally, working across multiple sectors and platforms to manufacture innovative products. This creates new breadths of opportunity for small and medium sized firms.

The outcomes stridently call for greater strategy in communities across the state. Manufacturing offers the biggest return on investment nationally. For every dollar of output, it generates $1.35 of wealth elsewhere in the economy. To put that in perspective, the finance sector generates $0.63 in comparison.

This is all great news for North Carolina. We are the fourth largest manufacturing state in the country, and the largest in the southeast.

The sector provides higher- wage jobs and wealth in communities, although not the number of jobs it has offered in the past. That said, not all communities are capitalizing on the possibilities. Those that are matching their assets to opportunities in the sector are experiencing success. Others will need to think about how to build assets and create a collaborative environment in which new manufacturing can grow and thrive.

If we are to have returns on our investments in Gen Z, they will need ample opportunities to participate in what is being dubbed “The New Industrial Revolution.” As such, we will focus the state on this sector as our 2013 emerging issue.

Join us,

Content table

Want to learn more about manufacturing?


Click here to view our latest infographic!

Your Action Initiative

Each month we will offer a new challenge for citizens to engage with this emerging issue in your community. This month’s challenge? Send us a story, picture, video or other kind of media that shows us how manufacturing has changed in your community. Email us at or tweet at us @emergingissues. Entries are due Oct. 5, on National Manufacturing Day. IEI will select a winner, who will receive a basket full of products all made in North Carolina!

Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation


Do you know a student group that can develop an idea for a product that will better a community? Have them apply for the Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation and the chance to win $5,000! Click here to learn more.

Discovery Forum


Held in collaboration with Triangle Entrepreneurship Week, on November 13 everyday North Carolinians will share their entrepreneurial idea for making a difference in their community. Presentation proposals are due October 2. Interested? Click here for more information.