Faribault, Minn., is a long way from Silicon Valley, and Faribault Woolen Mill Company may be a far cry from the typical startup. But when cousins Chuck and Paul Mooty first toured the vacant 147-year-old mill in July 2011, they knew the dilapidated building with a flooded basement and outdated equipment was the kind of business that could spark a manufacturing revival -- even a revolution.
"What we had here was a great Americana brand -- the oldest manufacturing entity in the state of Minnesota," Chuck Mooty said. "We had a very short window of time to take something and brush it off. We could have thought of all the reasons not to do it, but we took a leap of faith. We just had the feeling that someone had to step up and bring this thing back."
Chuck and Paul Mooty aren't the only ones giving manufacturing another shot. When President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, touted "an economy built on American manufacturing" and acknowledged the "huge opportunity at this moment to bring manufacturing back," manufacturing went from boring to buzzword overnight.
But Obama's examples of manufacturing success -- auto companies and Master Lock -- represent the old-school era of manufacturing. Instead, small manufacturers like Faribault and entrepreneurial thinkers like the Mootys may be the key to transforming manufacturing as we know it and bringing jobs back to the United States that big businesses handed off to foreign countries decades ago. Some experts believe that in this new wave of manufacturing, small businesses will be better able to compete with countries like China and with big U.S. companies, thanks to consumer demand for "made in America" products, groundbreaking technology, and the flattening of the global cost curve in terms of wages and production methods.
Vivek Wadhwa, academic, researcher, writer and entrepreneur, has no doubt that within two decades, the United States will return to manufacturing supremacy.
"China has, at the most, 10 years to enjoy the money it's making off manufacturing," Wadhwa said. "In the next five to 10 years, we'll see a major disruption happening in China, and in 10 to 20 years, there will be a hollowing out of China's manufacturing industry, just as there was in the U.S. If I were China, I'd be losing sleep right now."