In my January column, I wrote that 2012 will be the year of the engineer. There's so much innovation under way in integrated automation, MEMS, miniaturized design, and medical products, to name just a few, that there's no question it's an exciting time to be involved in technology.
There's still one sour note. Pundits tell us that the economy is slowly trending upward, yet we all still feel a sense of uncertainty. If many of us are doing better -- and the recent Design News salary survey says we generally are -- then we all have friends or family members who are feeling the sting of unemployment.
I wonder why that should be in the richest and most powerful nation on earth. I lament the fact that our manufacturing base -- the "arsenal of democracy," which built the tanks and planes that won World War II -- isn't seeing the full reinvestment it needs to position the US as the dominant player in the flexible factory of the 21st century.
This is paradoxical, because as I travel around the country, most of the executives I talk to are chomping at the bit to spend that money, and many of their companies are sitting on piles of cash. Perhaps it's that lingering economic uncertainly that prevents corporate boards from opening their coffers, or maybe it's the stranglehold of Wall Streeters who spend their days building spreadsheets rather than bending steel.
When I was younger, I would have been reticent about writing a column like this one. If only I had a nickel for every engineer who's written: "I get [publication X] to read about technology, not politics." Well, supporting the US manufacturing industry is about technology. It's also about nickels for all of us.
However, a question that's worthy of debate -- and it happens to be a political one -- is where that support should come from.