Everyone wants to see manufacturing businesses return to the U.S. and Maine. And why not? The value of businesses that make tangible things in large plants where hundreds of employees go to work each morning is easy to understand.
Those large-scale manufacturing businesses typically offer a range of entry level jobs and the opportunity to learn skills and advance. By virtue of making a product with an intrinsic value, the chances are good that the business will remain viable and not go bankrupt overnight.
Manufacturing’s glory days are best represented by the juggernaut that was General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the 1960s, where durable goods were made for consumption by Americans. This version is not likely to return.
Should we give up on this economic sector? Not at all.
Manufacturing remains a force in Maine—you just have to know where to look. In this issue of The Working Waterfront, we look at the Boothbay region, where several boatbuilding and boat service companies are going strong. In the midst of a pretty tourist town where motels, inns, restaurants and gift shops dominate the business landscape, large steel-sided sheds and gravel yards are tucked into waterfront lots.
These firms employ scores of high-skilled workers whose paychecks ripple through the Midcoast economy. Much of the supplies and tools they use are purchased locally. But they don’t make products that are consumed by the masses, which make them less than visible.
Many of the boats manufactured in the Boothbay region are purchased by those in the top income tier. Whatever your views are on the topic of income disparity, they should not cloud your understanding of the role boatbuilding plays in Maine’s economy.
It’s true that builders must deal with slow periods in between projects, and that means workers will have to collect unemployment for weeks or months, but this is the nature of the business. Coastal towns that host boatbuilding firms—and when you include the small shops that manufacture a lobster boat at a time, there’s a lot of them—should nurture and appreciate them.