Editor’s Note

Manufacturing Consent

By Steve LeBeau

We are at another juncture of our political cycle where soon we will arise en masse, trudge to the polls and — with more holding their noses than ever before — collectively choose our new commander in chief. I am only somewhat more optimistic than those touting the bumper sticker “Giant Meteor — 2016 — Just end it already!”

It has always been a matter of great debate whether presidents have any real influence over the economy at large, though they certainly have an impact on the public attitude — aka consumer confidence. But as my political awareness has matured (i.e., become more cynical), I have moved away from the left-right calculus, and started differentiating between top-down and bottom-up.  Linguist George Lakoff, who dives deep into how metaphors frame our thinking, says Republicans tend to prefer a strict father type as president, whereas Democrats favor a nourishing mother type. What bothers me about both depictions is that the citizens are treated as children either way.

At least in the world of industry we are starting to see new models of leadership that are displacing the old top-down mentality, and are moving toward a more distributed model of power that tends to be flatter. This more collaborative attitude — instead of Father Knows Best — is even making a mark at Target Corp., where the product designers are reaching out to consumers to participate in the design process.

A more apt model for mothers and fathers is in family-owned businesses, where, if they are lucky, they can empower their children to take over the company and better yet, improve upon it. Sadly, some parents do their children a disservice when it comes to manufacturing, by discouraging them from entering the industry. They do not realize how much factories have changed, becoming highly digitized, roboticized and sanitized.

Of course, the downside of manufacturers being hooked up to the Internet of everything is that they become vulnerable to hackers, just like the DNC! To be successful in this day and age requires a steady flow of creativity in order to address the challenges thrust upon us by change, and so we need a way to conquer our inner fears to free us to get things done. We may even need to call upon metaphysical forces for guidance.

And so it is we honor those that thrive in our changing world through the Minnesota Manufacturing Awards. These companies demonstrate how to excel while solving problems, envisioning a future that does not yet exist, and contributing to our economy and quality of life.

After all, each additional item made in Minnesota is one item less we will need from China, as even our major and minor party candidates for president can agree.