“The story of the factories of the Bay State is a narrative of an astonishing concentration of human endeavor.
“In quantity no less than in value do the manufactures of Massachusetts amaze. A boot, shoe, or slipper for every human foot in the United States; more cotton goods than the whole world produced when John Adams was President; enough hosiery to cover 40,000 miles of feet and legs; sufficient woolen goods to put a twenty-foot bandage around the waist of Mother Earth – these are some of the yardsticks that measure the annual activities of this beehive of industry.
“Of course, when one thinks of Massachusetts industry, the manufacture of textiles comes immediately to mind.
“Think of twelve million flying spindles converting fiber into yearn and thread, each of them dancing around its own axis at rates varying from 5,000 to 10,000 turns a minute. Placed end to end, these dancing dervishes of the textile industry would reach from Montreal, Canada to Memphis, Tennessee.
“Then, there are the looms, a quarter of a million of them. Put these cloth making machines together, end to end, with no aisles in between them, and the weaving shed required to house them would begin in Boston, Mass., and end in Wilmington, Delaware. Every third spindle and loom in the United States is humming away in the cities and towns of the Bay State.”
Excerpt from “Massachusetts – Beehive of Business,”
Published in The National Geographic Magazine, March, 1920
Nearly a century ago, Massachusetts was among the national leaders in manufacturing. As the “Birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution,” it’s not surprising that the Bay State was such a Mecca of business and industry.
Then, about fifty years ago, the effects of the Great Depression and another World War, and competition from lower wage states, and, ultimately, foreign countries took its toll. The hours were long; the labor was often hard and physical or boring piece work. Parents wanted better for their children, and children wanted better for themselves.
Massachusetts, known since colonial times as a place where education was valued, began to promote a college education and scholarly pursuits. The professions – largely service in method – became the goal of most educated young people. Technology replaced much of the traditional manufacturing, and office buildings replaced workshops. Technology also dramatically reduced the need for large numbers of workers doing repetitive functions. The economy shifted to an innovation economy where brains took over for brawn.
Manufacturing known today as “advanced manufacturing technology” needs fewer workers and more innovative thinkers. Massachusetts now boasts an innovation economy, and manufacturing of lasers, robotic, fiber-optics has replaced textiles and shoes. The jobs are usually clean – almost like laboratories – and the pay is substantially better.
Despite the growth of first-class regional vocational technical high schools like Blackstone Valley, Bay Path, and Worcester, there are not enough skilled workers to supply the new advanced manufacturing facilities. It is estimated that 190,000 skilled jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. Our educational system continues to produce, and parents continue to demand education for the professions despite the over-supply of lawyers, accountants, and others.
However, a “new industrial revolution” is beginning. Policymakers and educational leaders are finally working together with advanced manufacturing entrepreneurs to focus on the need for a skilled workforce to meet the needs of advanced manufacturing. The Legislature has established a “Manufacturing Caucus,” focused on listening to the needs of industry and on shifting public policy priorities to support this burgeoning sector. The state’s higher education leadership is developing a shared effort among community colleges, state universities, and the University of Massachusetts to develop training centers that offer college level technical courses to educate the new advanced manufacturing workforce.
Recently, a manufacturing roundtable of business, government, and education leaders held meetings in Southbridge, at the Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Upton, and at Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School in Franklin. Another is planned in Sturbridge in the coming weeks. We have some catching up to do, but the will and the means are present.
Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, is the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Massachusetts Senate. He is also the Senate Chairman of the Legislature’s new Manufacturing Caucus. He represents fourteen towns in South Central Massachusetts that were the “Birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.”
Sean Riley, Director of External Affairs Office of Senator Richard T. Moore