The Human Side of Manufacturing

Nashville, TN (August, 2017) - I occasionally start reading a book that I can’t put down until I finish. Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local--And Helped Save An American Town, written by Beth Macy, is one of these books. 

Factory Man tells the story of the furniture industry in Southern Virginia and how John Bassett III saved the jobs of 700 Vaughn-Bassett employees by improving his firm’s competitiveness and successfully filing antidumping claims against foreign competitors. Through his focus, tenacity and perseverance, he found a path to success and accomplished something many said could not be done. 

This book stands out because it describes, in very human terms, the importance of manufacturing to communities, families and people. In the book, we see how small towns in rural America live or die with the success or failure of a manufacturing plant. We learn about generations of families who made their way working in “the factory,” and the despair that occurs when the factory goes away. We see how local manufacturers, while creating manufacturing jobs, also make it possible for retailers and service providers to flourish.

Factory Man has several lessons for manufacturers. It demonstrates the importance of continuously improving manufacturing operations; understanding the applications and impacts of trade policy; and always striving to understand and stay close to employees. Factory Man also has critical reminders for the UT Center for Industrial Services. We know, for example, that we must strive to understand the needs of our customers; develop and maintain the expertise to meet these needs; and work collaboratively with our partners to promote the importance of manufacturing.  Most importantly, we must always remember the human side of manufacturing and that when we assist a manufacturer, we are helping a community, families and people.

Beth Macy, author of Factory Man, is a journalist whose work has appeared in national magazines and The Roanoke Times, where her reporting has won more than a dozen national awards. Factory Man was published in 2014.

Paul Jennings
CIS Executive Director