Twenty-five years ago, when I began working on the floor of a Mars plant as a manufacturing graduate trainee, I set a career goal to run a factory someday. It was a time when the promise of manufacturing seemed unlimited — from the economic growth I'd seen firsthand as a pet food plant director in Columbia, S.C., to North Carolina's textile mills and Detroit's automotive sector.
And yet, a decade later, that picture would dramatically change. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. manufacturing sector purged more than 5 million jobs, amounting to a third of America's manufacturing workforce.
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I'm lucky enough to say that the company I work for has consistently bucked this trend. Mars continued to invest in American plants throughout the 1990s and 2000s, ensuring that over 90 percent of our products sold in America were made here, even when others were giving up and moving elsewhere.
Fast-forward to today, and fortunately for American workers, U.S. manufacturing as a whole is enjoying somewhat of a comeback. Over the last few years we've seen major employers, from GE to Ford, reshore manufacturing jobs. Even today, as Mars announces an additional $70 million reinvestment in our U.S. factories, more and more businesses are putting a focus back on manufacturing in America.
But it's not just about creating job opportunities in America. It makes good business sense as well. As we've seen for ourselves, keeping jobs in America has resulted in benefits that run deeper than only creating jobs in the U.S. It has provided us with very real and important residual benefits that include:
- Retention: Our people stay with us longer; 12 percent of our U.S. associates have worked with us for more than 20 years — compared with national figures of just over five years for the median tenure for manufacturing workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Quality control: Quality control is improved because we're able to maintain consistent processes aligned with strict U.S. regulatory requirements and work side-by-side with our local suppliers. For example, our factory in Albany, Ga., where we roast the peanuts used in our products across the U.S. is strategically located near the majority of American peanut farmers to ensure we are sourcing the best crops.
- Speed and carbon footprint: We're able to cut down on product delivery times which reduces shipping costs, also meaning fresher products in stores and shipped through our e-commerce partners — which benefits consumers. Not only that, but this proximity means less travel to transport our products, leading to decreased fossil fuel use.
- Meeting millennial demand: Businesses like ours have the ability to create new American jobs by making our products right here — and what's more, the market increasingly demands it. Nielsen data shows that about 75 percent of U.S. millennials say buying American-made products is important to them.
However, businesses can't do this on their own. Government's role in creating a positive environment for manufacturing is critical — and businesses need to be involved in guiding those policies. We all have a stake in getting this right; a robust manufacturing sector is one of the best indicators and generators of wealth for any economy. A healthy manufacturing sector is also a defense against international economic and political disruption.
To be sure, the promise of American manufacturing looks different today than it did in the 1990s. The nature of the opportunity has changed, requiring different skill sets, different types of investments by business, and different policies from government. But the opportunity is there — and it is on us to seize it.
Commentary by Tracey Massey, the president of Mars Chocolate North America. Massey oversees a multi-billion dollar portfolio of global brands that includes M&M's, Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, 3Musketeers and Dove. Follow her on Twitter @masseytracey.
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