IF “Automation is King!” — robotic sewing machines could bring back the “Made in the USA” label on our clothing. That sounds like a nice theory, right? The U.S. garment industry has been given up as dead for decades — but if automation can revive it, it can certainly revive any industry.
Could new “lights out” totally-automated clothing factories also save the rapidly declining U.S. cotton industry? Cotton growing annually stimulates $100 billion in our nation’s economy. The U.S. accounts for over 30 percent of the total world cotton export market. We still have the raw materials to revive the U.S. clothing industry. But big trouble looms ahead…
Large U.S. government subsidies for cotton farmers historically made American cotton globally competitive. But this year, the government no longer subsidized cotton farmers after losing a World Trade court case that ordered them to stop. However, instead of letting an industry that generates $100 billion in economic activity for our nation head into oblivion, our nation’s political leaders should up our game and promote innovations that could transform our high-priced cotton into globally competitive value-added goods like robot-made T-shirts and clothing.
Someone alerted me t0 the news that the German government leaders have already acted on that bright idea. They are investing $8.7 million into a robotic sewing research project with German shoe and clothing manufacturer Adidas as well as the German subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls. It’s no longer a theory. Adidas and Johnson Controls are now working to make robotic sewing a reality in their SPEEDFACTORY project.
Since the U.S. exports a lot of leather too, it’d be nice to see more innovation in our nation’s industrial policies. Politicians brag about the U.S. being a leader in creativity and innovation. However, where’s the innovation in public policies that fail to transform our wealth of raw materials like cotton into globally competitive manufactured goods.
The U.S. government spends more money at the U.S. Department of Agriculture just for global advertising campaigns that promote the exports of our “raw materials” like cotton, corn, and wheat than the combined total of all federal manufacturing programs to promote applied research in industrial innovation and exports of “value-added manufactured products.” One quick example. The Ag Dept funds ads to promote exports of grapes; but the Commerce Dept has zero funds to promote our nation’s wines.
There’s no reason that we could’d see headline like this one in America someday and Walmart low-prices for “Made in the USA” clothing! With automation, robotics and advanced manufacturing technologies, we can compete in any industrial sector – even the garment industry.