This review first ran in the Jan. 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By David Sax
Shinola watches won’t track how many steps you take in a day, monitor your heart rate, remind you to stand up and get active, display photos and emails or keep you tethered to the Internet.
Instead, Shinola watches do just two things – tell time and employ hundreds of people in downtown Detroit.
Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis opened his watch factory in a landmark Midtown Detroit building that was once home to General Motors’ research and design division. Kartsotis chose the Motor City after consumers said they’d pay a premium for products made in Detroit. Along with high end watches, Shinola also makes leather goods, bicycles, turntables and other products. Shinola is a niche manufacturer building off the DNA of the city and its people.
“Shinola’s entire brand rests on its location in Detroit,” says David Sax, author of . “The Shinola marketing material is relentless in pushing this narrative of American artisan craftsmanship and ingenuity.
“Shinola may base its brand on a fanciful tale of renewed American manufacturing, but the dollars generated by the sale of its watches, and the jobs those sales have created, are undeniably real. The benefits of these jobs, and the business model of Shinola and other analog industries, have tangible, long-term benefits for investors, workers and communities, which differ greatly from those created in a digital economy, whose own benefit is far less widely spread.”
Yet every city is relentless in the pursuit of digital start-ups, tech companies, creative industries and the jobs of tomorrow. Politicians and civic leaders are quick and happy to throw money at research hubs, technology incubators and coding camps for kids.
Twitter’s decision to hire one person to work in Detroit generated the same media coverage as Shinola opening a factory and employing 500 residents.
“The problem is that analog jobs aren’t sexy in the way tech jobs are to politicians, investors and philanthropists, and the media,” says Sax.
“While the growth of the digital economy is real and will only continue, the benefits of that vast growth on employment, economies and communities have not even come close to matching the hype surrounding them. Those other jobs, the ones politicians and thought leaders don’t talk about – analog jobs – still matter a hell of lot more than do those associated with the digital economy. Nowhere is this clearer than in Detroit.”
Sax says high-paying tech jobs are accessible only to a select highly-educated few who already have their pick of plum jobs. Labour-intensive companies like Shinola create jobs for an analog workforce that can learn new skills while earning a decent middle class living.
Like Detroit, Hamilton also has a well-earned reputation for making things. As the demand for analog products and services goes mainstream, that reputation could help launch new businesses and bring new manufacturing jobs to the Ambitious City.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.