Voice of an Innovator: The Comeback of American Manufacturing

Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Michelle Gibson, CEO of IceStone, a small green manufacturer based in Brooklyn, NY. Click here to read about CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley's discussion with leaders from IceStone and other green manufacturers on how the Obama Administration is supporting innovation and job growth in the manufacturing sector.

CEQ Chair Sutley with Michelle Gibson at Carrier

IceStone CEO Michelle Gibson (right) discusses green manufacturing with Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo Credit Flaam Hardy)

In his 2011 state of the union address, President Obama called on Americans to "out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world."  After more than 20 years overseeing the supply chain and operations of multi-national corporations, I witnessed firsthand the opportunity for businesses to shift from production that follows a "cradle to grave" value stream, to one that prioritizes renewable materials, clean energy, and the well-being of workers and customers. IceStone is one company striving to do just that, proving that an American manufacturing renaissance is possible.  Since 2003, IceStone has been producing premium durable surfaces made of recycled glass and concrete.  The production of our surfaces has diverted millions of tons of glass from the waste stream, and has created green collar jobs in the manufacturing sector that pay a living wage.   IceStone is proof that it's possible to create good U.S. jobs; all it takes is capital, job training, and a sustainable business model.

To remain competitive in the global economy, incentive programs and policies must be designed to support the small businesses and start-ups that are driving smart innovation in our country.  IceStone has been the beneficiary of state and federal support, securing the capital needed to purchase equipment, train workers, and invest in research and development.  Furthermore, IceStone’s renovated 19th century factory is located inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a city-owned industrial park expected to add 2,000 new jobs in the next two years. The Navy Yard recently received the promise of a $15 million commitment from the New York State Senate allocated for increasing the number of green businesses there. Such resources are essential to incubate and fuel the types of businesses President Obama believes will "lead the comeback of American manufacturing."

In addition to capital, our workforces need the education, training, and benefits necessary to meet the demands of a new economic climate.  Business and government must work together to provide not only green manufacturing jobs, but the requisite skills to perform those jobs.  Furthermore, businesses must recognize that if we put the welfare of workers first, U.S. manufacturing will flourish.  Providing safe, living-wage jobs for all our employees has always been part of IceStone’s mission, and we have trained members of our operations team to be stronger managers on the factory floor and to proactively create their own development plans.

Peter Strugatz and Miranda Magagnini co-founded IceStone with hopes of re-defining conventional business philosophy.  I left the corporate world to join IceStone because I shared that vision, and understood the clear need for the triple bottom line. This new business model will be the most important trait of America's manufacturing renaissance. When I reflect on the culture we’ve created at IceStone, the outreach we’ve done in our local community, the waste we’ve reduced and up-cycled, the facility renovations that improve the energy efficiency of our operations, and the people IceStone has touched, I believe what the President said in his address to be true: "In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living."

Michelle Gibson is CEO of IceStone.

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