There’s a very old parable, thought to have originated in the Indian subcontinent, of six blind (or blind-folded) men asked to describe an elephant. They reach different conclusions depending upon which part of the elephant they touch:

  • Side – it’s like a wall
  • Leg – it’s like a tree
  • Trunk – it’s like a snake
  • Tusk – it’s like a spear
  • Ear – it’s like a fan
  • Tail – it’s like a rope

The point is that people have the tendency to project their partial observations to represent the entirety of something.  Each man was “correct” in their assessment, they just did a poor job of explaining the entirety of the elephant.

A similar challenge arises when trying to describe or characterize the role of manufacturing.  We use disparate data sources to see parts of manufacturing – Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census, International Trade Administration, National Science Foundation and the Federal Reserve Economic Data.  These data sources help us to remove our blind-folds and see a part of manufacturing more clearly.  But like the parable, taken alone they do not represent the entirety.  The more complete picture of manufacturing includes all these elements:

  • Manufacturing is the 6th largest employer
  • Manufacturing jobs reflect higher earnings
  • More than half of all exports are manufactured goods
  • Manufacturing consistently represents more than 10 percent of GDP
  • Manufacturing is the primary source (about two-thirds) of R&D

Like the elephant, U.S. manufacturing cannot be adequately explained through a narrowly focused observation and analysis, but by taking a broader look at the facts about manufacturing.

 

Facts About Manufacturing Infographic 2018

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Nico Thomas

Nico Thomas is a Performance Analyst intern at NIST MEP, working with the Manufacturing Policy and Research Team to…
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Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell is an economist in the Manufacturing Research and Program Evaluation group with the Manufacturing…

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