I had the opportunity the other day to think about the future of manufacturing … and of manufacturing associations. Under auspices of the American Society of Association Executives, I joined a group of manufacturing association execs to discuss trends affecting our industries and organizations. The purpose: To better understand future opportunities and challenges of our members, so that we can more effectively serve them.

While there are dozens of trends that will affect businesses and professionals in the coming years, a handful of these will have a significant impact on manufacturers. Culling ASAE's 62 trends, here are my choices for the top manufacturing opportunities and challenges in the coming years:

  • The growing economic importance of global knowledge economy. Intangible assets such as knowledge and skills are projected to account for 50% of US GDP by 2010. This is cleary U.S. manufacturing's competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
  • Global skill shortages expected to increase with economic growth. ManPower says that 41% of U.S. companies had problems filling positions last year. Our schools don't produce enough science, math, and engineering students, and those coming out of China and India are being lured back.
  • Rising economic strength of China and India. Directly or indirectly related to many of our other challenges, these two behemoths also offer potentially vast opportunities for U.S. manufacturers who want to market overseas.
  • Climate change a growing political and economic priority. Whether it's good science of bad science, politicians are taking steps across the globe that will affect the cost of manufacturing and the lifecycle of our products.
  • Nations competing for science investment to drive economic performance. As NAM observed in a white paper several years ago, innovation is the key to wealth creation — and R&D is the key to innovation. Our manufacturers need to maintain their lead in R&D.
  • Global consumption patterns challenging the planet's resource capacity and distribution. With the rise of China and India as market powers, energy and raw materials are being consumed at a pace never before seen. The challenge lies in locating scarce resources, and the opportunity lies in developing alternative energy and material sources.
  • Energy demand and cost will be supplied through alternative sources. Pure opportunity for many manufacturers, who are already in the hunt to develop new energy sources.

ASAE's analysis of "The Association of the Future," due out sometime in late summer, will incorporate these and other trends and, in the process, shold help us better prepare programs and services to meet our manufacturers' needs.


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