The production and manufacturing boom that took place in the decades following the Civil War (known as the Gilded Age) brought a host of changes to the American economic landscape. Cottage industries and small scale manufacturing gave way to mass production, and mass production led to a rise in wide scale distribution and the infrastructure development required by shipping, transport and the delivery of raw materials. Factories rose up in every major city, and as they did, roads and bridges were laid in place, humans migrated to job centers, and everything about American life underwent a sea change, from the food we ate to the way we worked to the structure of our relationships.
In the early 20th century, the rise of accessible fossil fuels pushed this boom further, and with short pauses to recover from two World Wars and a bleak stretch of depression, these petro fuels have driven production and manufacturing to new heights with no sign of slowing down…until recently.
As the modern American landscape and lifestyle rose up around the availability of coal, oil, and natural gas, the innovations that drove production in the Victorian era leveled off. Dependence on fossil fuels eventually weakened the need—and weakened the drive to find—other sources of energy and other platforms for development, manufacturing, distribution and transportation.
By the 1970s and 80’s, innovation had plateaued and come to a virtual standstill. And since that time, economic growth has leveled off as well—median incomes and measures of real wealth are similar for households in 1989 and 2013. And now that the world is beginning to recognize the high cost and limitations of fossil fuels, the search for alternatives is started to reawaken. Will a global drive to develop alternative fuel sources spark a new boom? Are we standing on the cusp of a new industrial era, one in which innovation will return to the foreground? In the near future, will ideas—not just fuel—drive the most competitive and successful manufacturing operations?
Signs point to yes. A few decades ago, fossil fuels, power, and growth went hand in hand. But those who cling to this old model may struggle to compete in the years ahead. As fossil fuels recede from the picture, the companies that thrive will be those that turn to toward new sources of power: human capital, innovation, and energy independence.
To make sure your own organization stays on top during the second industrial revolution, develop a strategic staffing plan now. Arrange a consultation with the Little Rock staffing experts at CSS and start thinking about your company’s future.