May we suggest ‘Manufacturing 3.5?’

As we emerge from the Great Recession, we can look back at economic development and see how greatly it has changed. From raw material extraction to cloud computing technologies, the landscape is much different.

Pittsburgh-based Fourth Economy Consulting, a national economic development consulting firm, recently released a report on the pace of economic development in the United States.

This infographic illustrates how the pace of economic development has continually accelerated since the beginning of economic growth in the country.

The report is quite striking. Earlier economic phases that were 50, 60 or 150 years in the making, have been replaced by eras that last merely a decade, if that.

Early on entire communities were sprung to harvest wood, ore, silver, limestone and other materials. By the late 1800s, communities formed near factories. Later, those communities gave way to business parks, and the middle class of America became a “driving force for economic growth and stability,” the report said.

By the 1980s, a second wave of manufacturing occurred in response to international competition.

“Since then, technology has driven the transformation as the interconnectedness of our industry and communities has expedited the pace of growth,” the report said. “Economic development cycles are now measured in years rather than decades.”

In Fourth Economy’s timeline, there was a third wave of manufacturing growth from the 1990s to the 2000s, and in the current decade there’s a new economic driver called Generation Digitals, highlighting cloud computing.

Manufacturing, however, is still growing, but it will take a new strategy.

“The tools and techniques being developed to support manufacturing’s next phase require corporate and academic partnerships like never before,” the report said.

Indeed, the United States remains the largest producer of advanced technology products in the world. Total U.S. manufacturing output is higher today than 40 years ago. To maintain our position, however, we must invest in scientific research, human capital, technological innovation and relationships.