Thursday, May 1, 2014

Built in Detroit

Can a new wave of high-end ventures like watchmaker Shinola help revive manufacturing in the motor city?

Extract from Time, vol 103, No 12, 2014.

"The factory floor is silent but not empty. Dozens of workers dressed in crisp white lab coats, hairnets and matching Crocs are maneuvering dollhouse-size hand tools and manipulating minuscule parts to assemble wristwatches. With loupes to eyes, one line builds the movement - the timepieces' quartz-powered brain. Another line does nothing but put the dials in place while another set the hands, fix the case backs and lash the leather straps. This isn't a clean room in Geneva or a Chinese factory in Shenzen. These movements are taking place behind the floor-to-ceiling glass wall that separates Shinola's Detroit headquarters from its sprawling state-of-the-art factory."

"More than style is at stake. Shinola is growing at a time when American manufacturing is in full revival and the global trade equation is being rewritten. Climbing wages in China, higher transportation costs, a weaker dollar, rising U.S. productivity and cheaper energy: all these factors mean American firms are finding it increasingly competitive to make things at home. Companies like Shinola - native U.S. manufacturing operations determined to nurture domestic cottage industries that have all but disappeared - are the latest test of these trends. If Shinola can thrive, it could become part of something the Motor City hasn't seen since the glory days of American automaking: a new boom in manufacturing"

"In addition to the factory, Shinola has helped revitalize a desolate stretch on the old Cass Corridor, an area better known for prostitutes and drug dealers by opening a store in an empty factory there last June. Today the spot is thriving with new businesses. 'This area was our skid row', says Jeanette Pierce, director of community relations for D:hive, a nonprofit group that connects Detroit's resources and businesses. 'Sixteen months ago, there were maybe four small shops. Today there are 16 and a brewery.'"