The Economist recently published an article discussing how recent economic indicators show how small scale manufacturing has been recovering in London. From 2011 to 2014, the number of manufacturing jobs has risen 15%. Given how high the rents and cost of labour can be in a city as big and cosmopolitan as London, they argue, an increase in international demand for London labour must be due to highly skilled work and/or innovative products.
See for yourself:
Here are my thoughts on the article:
If these indicators are true, and based on the activity I’ve seen in London city over the past few years at places like the 3D Printshow and London Design Festival, there is no reason to doubt them, then perhaps we may be finally seeing the long awaited manufacturing blowback we’ve been hoping for since manufacturing jobs started being outsourced wholesale in the 1990s.
Of course this does not mean a return of old fashioned manufacturing jobs, but rather a permanent change in the minimum viable size of a manufacturing company, and the increased flexibility of location which has come with this change. When it is possible to have a factory with two employees and a RP machine, suddenly the cost savings of overseas manufacturing dwindles in favour of faster turnaround and easier quality control.
I take this as a real sign for optimism and the return of local manufacturing, not just here in London, but in the Western developed countries which have seen years of attrition in manufacturing jobs. It’s doesn’t undo all the damage that has been done to these old industries, but it does finally start to rebalance the scales, and increases manufacturing’s economic importance once again here in the West.
It also means that the current prospects of starting a microbusiness based on the manufacture of original and innovative goods are better than they have been in decades.
Also, it seems to me there is some irony in the fact the same machines craftsmen are accusing of destroying their jobs could well be the saviours of their local industries.