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Redefining “Made in USA”

Redefining “Made in USA”

Chris Campbell

Posted June 26, 2024

Chris Campbell

Reporting from Corktown, Detroit… 

In the heart of America, a revolution is brewing.

Not the kind that involves muskets and tea parties, but one that could once more reshape the very fabric of American society.

It's happening in nondescript buildings filled with high-tech machinery and passionate engineers, where the hum of production lines carries the promise of a revitalized manufacturing sector.

That, at least, is the premise behind Reindustrialize here in Detroit. 

“Everyone here,” the speaker said. “Take a look at your pants, your bag, your shoes, your nail clippers, if you have them, and take note of what you see. Where are they from.” 

The speaker was Miles Arnone, CEO of Re:Build Manufacturing, a company founded in 2021 by former Amazon executive Jeff Wilke.

Their mission? Revitalize American manufacturing by creating a dynamic network of American manufacturing companies that can provide end-to-end solutions from engineering to production.

To do so, Re:Build strategically acquires and integrates specialized manufacturing firms in critical sectors.

Unlike typical private equity models, Re:Build takes a long-term approach to business growth, aiming to create a sustainable ecosystem of domestic manufacturing capabilities. 

No small feat. Especially given what he said next. 

“Now, be honest,” Arnone said. “If you have three of those items made in America, raise your hand. For most of you, I bet the answer is zero.”

I sunk into my chair, along with 90% of the room. He was right. My shirt is made in Mauritius. My pants? Vietnam. My shoes were made in Mexico. Bag? Liberia.

“Liberia!” I imagined him shouting. “Liberia?!”

I sunk deeper.

And those nail clippers? I had to look later, but you’ll never guess: China. (Gasp!) 

In the end, only one guy raised his hand.

Despite this (and because of it), I’m surrounded by venture capitalists hungry to get into the American-made “hard tech” space.

BUT…

Despite the high energy and excitement:

Not everyone here I’ve talked to is convinced of the narrative. There are challenges. Some say they won’t be solved this decade. Or the decade after.

Like China, But Without IP Theft

“Our dependence upon offshore sources of supply for critical and non-critical items has really left a big hole in the economy,” Arnone says, his eyes alight with the fervor of a true believer.

"It's also created a situation where a lot of people have lost their path to the middle class."

Imagine, if you will, a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece represents a different manufacturing capability—engineering, production, automation. 

For decades, these pieces have been scattered across the globe, with many of the most crucial ones landing in places like China and Southeast Asia. What Re:Build Manufacturing is attempting to do is not just to bring those pieces back to American soil, but to fit them together in entirely new ways.

"We need to develop a model of industrialization in this country that works for the unique characteristics of the US," Arnone says.

Sounds simple on the surface, but it’s much more challenging the more you scratch. But that, Arnone says, is to our advantage: the challenging bits make it much harder to replicate. 

Because this new model isn't just about factories and machines. It's about culture, collaboration, and a fundamental shift in how we think about manufacturing. It's about creating what Arnone calls "China Incorporated, but without stealing your IP.”

At the heart of this approach is a set of principles called "The Rebuild Way” - a philosophy made up of 16 principles that emphasize transparency, long-term thinking, and continuous improvement. It's the antithesis, he says, of the short-term, profit-driven mentality that’s dominated American business for decades.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Re:Build isn't just applying these principles to their own operations. They're using them to create a network of companies that can work together in ways that were previously unimaginable.

Consider the story of the eVTOL aircraft company. It began with Re:Build designing propeller blades, moved to prototype production, and now encompasses full-scale manufacturing of complete rotor systems.

This was a journey that spanned multiple companies within the Re: Build network, each contributing its unique expertise.

The result? A manufacturing ecosystem that's greater than the sum of its parts… an approach that allows small and medium-sized companies to punch above their weight, competing on a global scale in ways they never could before.

A New Approach to “Made in America”

The future of American manufacturing isn't just about bringing back old jobs or replicating past successes. 

It's about reimagining what manufacturing can be in the 21st century. 

It's about creating a new industrial tradition that combines the best of American ingenuity with lessons learned from around the world.

Arnone provides a glimpse into a possible future—one where the factory floor is once again a pathway to the middle class, where "Made in America" is a badge of innovation rather than nostalgia, and where the hum of machinery is the soundtrack to a revitalized economy.

But, like I said, not everyone’s convinced.

Including one of the most provocative founders of the 21st century. We sat down for lunch and he gave me his day one takeaways.

More tomorrow… 

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