Towards a New Paradigm of Development: MR’s Theory of Change

In recent months, Manufacturing Renaissance and many partners have come together to advocate for a stronger and more equitable industrial policy in this country. Meanwhile, the organization’s dynamic work in Chicago (and other communities) continues. Now, a new report shares what Manufacturing Renaissance has learned and how the manufacturing sector in this country can be transformed in the coming years.

The result is a foundational document: a blueprint for industrial policy that shows how manufacturing can play a key role in the nation’s future. Towards a New Paradigm of Development, which was written by Dan Swinney, Founder of Manufacturing Renaissance, sets forth the organization’s theory of change. It’s based on a clear purpose: Production should be driven by the objective of creating a society that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable and restorative.

“We advocate for manufacturing development on a national scale that is both realistic and visionary,” says Swinney. “Now is the time to embrace it.  More than ever, there is growing momentum for change.”

What is called for, the report says, is the transformation of a whole society in which manufacturing plays a critical role. As we have seen, when manufacturing declines, that has a profound impact on society. Now, we must ensure the strength and vibrancy of the manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing is central to the health of modern society,” says Swinney. “We need a shift in our mindset to restore our manufacturing sector and our communities.”

Opportunity for Change Now

The opportunity to advance manufacturing is unusually strong right now, for a number of reasons. For nearly 40 years, Manufacturing Renaissance has developed innovative programs and articulated policies to advance this sector. Now, the Renaissance is partnering with more and more organizations on a national level through the Manufacturing Renaissance Agenda to address key manufacturing challenges that face this country. On the highest policy levels, it has been apparent for several months that the White House and a growing number of legislators are not only open to input from stakeholders – they are asking for input.

The report shows how a variety of interests and stakeholders are connected, and that bringing them together can pave the way for a manufacturing sector that can work for all. It’s a path that links public and private entities, a strong education and training system, a green economy, and prototypes that can be replicated on a major scale.

Old System Does Not Work

The idea of a “paradigm shift” was popularized in the early 1960s by physicist Thomas Kuhn. In essence, what it means for manufacturing, Swinney says, is that we need to develop a future for manufacturing in response to a current system that does not work anymore. The current system, the report says, reflects the words of former Gulf & Western CEO Charles Bludhorn, who invested in manufacturing companies with the intent of “milking the cash cow.” The result, according to the report: “Powerful sections of the financial community as well as some owners and managers of the manufacturing sector unilaterally violated the social contract, abandoning the decades of their stewardship of our productive sector that was the bedrock of our society.” In the current system, the government passively accepts (and even encourages) this reality. Meanwhile, vocational education and workforce development systems have collapsed. This system has increased inequality and polarization, poverty, and contamination of the planet.

New Paradigm

What is needed, the report says, is a new paradigm that celebrates the dynamic and positive role of labor; embraces democratic forms of management, and makes a commitment to end poverty and discrimination. At the same time, development must be sustainable, use new technologies in an innovative way, and invest in our educational and workforce development infrastructure.

This new paradigm encompasses a broad vision of manufacturing that connects many different pieces.  At the same time, it makes sense because it is based on an understanding of where we’ve been – and where we need to go.

This paradigm is grounded in practices that work: prototypes that can be replicated and impact the world of manufacturing on a greater scale.

Building New Prototypes

Building new prototypes for manufacturing is not simple work, the report shows. But it is an essential part of our future. Our context is that we must challenge traditional approaches and advocate for an industrial policy that is committed both to advanced technology and social inclusion. This policy must include a strong and entrepreneurial government – not one that is just designed to benefit shareholders.

Paving the Way

There are many inspiring efforts that can help shape our industrial future – from broad-based labor coalitions (with support of local governments) to environmentally friendly strategies. The report also details systemic approaches that have worked in Spain and Italy.


In Chicago, our efforts to partner with other organizations have also made a positive impact. The Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC) has brought together diverse partners that can work together to focus on advanced manufacturing – even if they don’t agree on all points. Partners in CMRC include labor, manufacturing, and nonprofit interests. The CMRC was the inspiration for the National Manufacturing Renaissance Council, which led to similar efforts on other cities.

Education and Workforce Development

The Chicago effort led to the creation of Austin Polytechnical Academy, a successful technical program and training facility that emphasized a youth-development focus. In recent years, Manufacturing Renaissance has established programs for in-school youth and young adults, while also developing teachers in the manufacturing field. Another successful pilot program and partnership trains and places men and women who were returning to their communities from prison.

Industrial Retention

Meanwhile, Manufacturing Renaissance has also been instrumental in developing strategies that promote industrial retention, including Re/Cast, which advises on ownership succession, and an early warning network that identifies and addresses transition issues, typically through data sources or community networks. Forms of assistance may include guidance on financial restructuring or workplace training.

Land Use and Community Development

Another key factor in the future of manufacturing will be creating a new paradigm for land use and development. Important elements here will include an emphasis on advanced manufacturing, community and government support, and education and training opportunities.

The opportunity for change is here. This report, along with our continuing program and policy work, confirms an urgent message.  Towards a New Paradigm of Development sets forth what is needed to transform the nation’s manufacturing sector. “It’s time for new ideas, partnerships, and programs,” says Swinney. “We have the framework we need to move forward. Now we need to contend.”

To read Towards a New Paradigm of Development, click here.