Manufacturing a Real Economy

3rd Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Photo by Nicole Salazar
3rd Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Photo by Nicole Salazar

A conversation with Adam Friedman

Use the audio player to hear Salazar’s interview with Adam Friedman. Running time: 9:36. Click here to download the mp3.

The collapse of the financial markets and their subsequent rescue has brought the need for a “real” economy into sharp relief.  While the financial sector was shedding jobs earlier this year, I sat down with Adam Friedman, then executive director of the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), to talk about the manufacturing industry in New York City and why it’s important.

“Manufacturing today is overwhelmingly very high end and provides very well-paying jobs.”
-Adam Friedman
Throughout the five boroughs New Yorkers are producing high end garment and paper products, building green construction materials, furniture, the kitchen sink, and so on. While much needed infrastructure investments and talk of a Green Economy are getting long overdue attention from Washington, many New York businesses are doing the kind of work the national economy seems to be dreaming about. Steady growth in this corner of the economy goes to show the viability of potential investments nationwide.

These jobs also contribute to the vitality of the city and our neighborhoods. High wages, unionized workplaces, benefits, the high walk-to-work ratio of blue-collar communities – for many people, industry jobs are the only jobs in the city that offer a living wage and decent work. Even so, there are tremendous pressures on manufacturers in the city to leave. High rents and inadequate and outdated zoning laws are squeezing manufacturers out of the city.

Political and private interests are also at work, as always. A recent proposal supported by the Bloomberg administration to eliminate zoning protections in the garment district in Midtown means 4,600 workers are battling for survival. Once upon a time (in the 1950s and 60s), 95% of apparel sold in the United States was made here. Today, that number is down to 5%.  With the Garment district under threat of extinction, we should expect to see that number plummet further. If the proposal goes through, designers will not be able to afford the rents for production in the Fashion Capital.

The work by The New York Industrial Retention Network and Adam Friedman, who has since been appointed Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, are critical voices on how we can make our communities stronger, more innovative, and more resilient. Now more than ever we should bring their work to the forefront.

Nicole Salazar is a Multimedia Producer at the independent TV / Radio news program Democracy Now!. Previously she studied Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. She lives in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


lee November 11, 2009

Everyone is worried about jobs going overseas, but I think should they should be more optimistic. America is great for generating new jobs and dealing with change. My grandfather said railroads once lost a lot of business when electric companies switched from burning coal to nuclear power. Railroads also needed less workers when trains stopped using cabooses. Yet while some railroad jobs may have disappeared, new jobs like webpage designers and video store clerks have appeared. Horse buggy manufacturers became car manufacturers and typewriter companies now make computers. Many industries that were supposed to disappear like movie theatres due to VCR’s and accounting because of computers have never been stronger.

While manufacturing jobs may go overseas to cheaper locations, the United States still manufactures more than any other country.

Even if more jobs go abroad, the USA will always have factories. I highly doubt that the United States will buy fighter jets from China. The price of labor may be cheaper in Asia now, but as oil and shipping prices rise, buying American products will not seem to be so expensive. Chinese products also have a reputation for poor quality and counterfeiting. BMW does not worry that Chinese car companies will steal their customers.

Many jobs cannot be outsourced, either. You are not likely to call a doctor, lawyer, mechanic, mover, driver, barber, electrician, locksmith, real estate agent, or plumber in China to fix a problem you have in the USA. Are all the farms, mines, stores, hotels, museums, restaurants, churches, security guards, banks, government workers, schools, and athletes in the US going to be shipped overseas, too?

Even if all the manufacturing jobs in the United States went to China, wouldn’t the Chinese need American skills? Americans are creative. Do you think China will be known as the new Disney and Hollywood? Will China become famous for apple pies, hamburgers, hot dogs, baseball, gun rights, democracy, free speech, and religious freedom?

While change is sometimes scary and being cautious is good, hysteria is not. Think for yourself and don’t be a Chicken Little.

may February 10, 2013

US is now using more automation. Jobs in manufacturing as in past will not become a factor in the present. For high end manufacturing you need to be trained and that costs ($$$).
Obama must face the rise of the robots
Technology will leave a large chunk of the US labour force in the lurch
The Rebound that Stayed Flat–finance.html
Practically human: Can smart machines do your job?
Labor’s Declining Share in the Computer Age
Rise Of The Droids: Will Robots Eventually Steal All Of Our Jobs?