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Mark Schmit

Quality Insider

Manufacturing As a Vacation Destination

A different kind of theme park

Published: Monday, August 15, 2016 - 10:18

Summer is a great time to catch up on reading. I suppose that’s why there’s such a thing as “summer reading,” which starts in grade school and extends a lifetime (or so goes the theory).

My initial attempt at summer reading this year was complemented by a July 4th military flyover of two F-16 jets. The jaw-dropping visual and ear-popping soundtrack to celebrating the birth of this great country of ours was a sobering reminder of current world events, not to mention a reminder of the awesomeness of U.S. manufacturing. The ubiquity of all things manufactured did not escape my vacation-dulled mind, not even with my feet in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, sand and, I might add, with a U.S.-brewed beer by my side.

I started my summer reading catch-up with the June 1972 issue (No. 151) of MAD magazine. I used the phrase “catch-up” intentionally. Yes, I am a little backlogged. I am also attempting to be perhaps the first person to reference MAD magazine in this otherwise erudite publication.

In June of 1972, MAD went out of its way to lampoon the state of affairs in U.S. manufacturing in their cover story which “proudly salutes American industry in its endless quest for quality, perfection, and high standards of production.” They intentionally misprinted every cover to accentuate their point. Check this out.

Absolutely hysterical.

The story, “MAD’s Auto Manufacturer of the Year,” was not all that funny save for the fictitious Mr. Edsel Lemmon quipping, “No, business is very rotten these days! Those aren’t new cars rolling out of the plant! They’re last year’s cars rolling back into the plant to have their mechanical defects fixed.” So it goes when MAD magazine takes a swing at you.

That was then. Today it’s different; so different, in fact, that in the July/August 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics, there is an entire section dedicated to visiting manufacturing plants as a vacation destination. If that’s not enough for you, feel free to geek-out knowing that this was also Popular Mechanics’ Olympic Innovation Issue.

The opening line in the manufacturing vacation story reads, “There’s probably no escaping taking the kids to an amusement park this summer—sweltering in long lines and paying for overpriced junk food. But when that torment is over, take them to a different kind of theme park, one you’ll both enjoy: an American factory.” Don’t forget, of course, that almost everything you see and touch and ride and eat at an amusement park is manufactured. It all had to be made.

Featured plants include John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa; Harley Davidson in York, Pennsylvania; Boeing in Everett, Washington; and Chevy’s Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They threw in Airstream in Center City, Ohio too. That’s iconic. The names are obvious and so are the products. The article doesn’t stop with the obvious, though. Popular Mechanics recommends visiting Kenyon’s Grist Mill in Kingston, Rhode Island; where the plant tour includes watching two giant pieces of granite (each 2,000 lb) mash grain and corn. It’s not 4th of July fireworks, but it’s a heck of a show. Fender Guitar, the U.S. Mint, and Woolrich (they’ve been making blankets since the 1830s) all made the list as well.

I want to thank Popular Mechanics for the article. I think the magazine pulled on a thread and expanded a theme that started five years ago on Manufacturing Day (MFG DAY), a day dedicated to showcasing U.S. manufacturing. Last year on MFG DAY, 2,600 organizations held open houses and more than 400,000 people visited those facilities. You can see for yourself at www.mfgday.com. This year on MFG DAY (Oct. 7, 2016) organizers anticipate 3,000 open houses. It’s celebrated annually on the first Friday in October, however, in many ways, MFG DAY (as Popular Mechanics pointed out) is every day.

So if manufacturing can’t be a family vacation destination this summer, there’s always October. And after a MFG DAY visit, you may find that manufacturing becomes much more than that. According to a 2014 Deloitte survey, those familiar with manufacturing are twice as likely to encourage a child to pursue a manufacturing career. As a seventh grader wrote to my colleague Zara Brunner after she visited his classroom at the Robert Frost Middle School, “Manufacturing is actually something I never thought was cool, but when you told us about it, it sounded like the coolest job on earth.” Now that’s good summer reading.

First published on the Manufacturing Innovation blog.


About The Author

Mark Schmit’s picture

Mark Schmit

Mark Schmit has served multiple roles while with the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Schmit is currently MEP’s National Accounts Manager. In this role he is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. He identifies new business opportunities that leverage state & federal funding with the goal to improve the competitiveness of US- based manufacturers. His major area of focus supply chain optimization.