America's Labor of Love

Our nation was built on several principles, including the desire for democracy, the ideal of self-reliance and the importance of hard work. That emphasis on skilled labor has become a cornerstone of the U.S. workforce. In fact, many of our Founding Fathers knew the satisfaction of working with their hands.

Before he became a military leader, George Washington was a surveyor. Thomas Jefferson designed and helped build his own home, Monticello. Benjamin Franklin is as well known for his role as a scientist and his work with electricity as he is a statesmen and politician.

In America's early days, local craftsmen made everything by hand and were the only sources for quality products. But invention gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, the era in the early 19th century that saw the birth of the mass manufacturing industry. The ripple effects of this age were felt around the world and forever changed the American workforce.

Factories opened with machines, each completing determined functions over and over again, producing items at record speeds that could then be shipped and sold. The first factory was a cotton-spinning mill in Rhode Island started by Samuel Slater in 1790. Seventy years later, the textile industry was booming in the U.S., with 1,200 cotton mills and 1,500 woolen factories in operation.

The iron industry, based in Pennsylvania, took over the work of small local forges. When a high-pressure steam engine was adapted for industrial use in 1804, it started powering sawmills, flour mills, printing presses and textile factories.

As the U.S. expanded with canal and railway construction, so did America's industrial reach. People, cargo and information moved more easily between the populated eastern portion of the country and expanding West. And as the country grew and changed, so did our leading industries including transportation, communication, petroleum, steel and automobiles.

Behind all these feats of machinery and mechanical marvels were people. And it took millions, working on factory floors, laying railroad tracks, mining for coal and drilling for oil, to ultimately lay the foundation for the next generation of America's workforce.

The aerospace, energy and the ever-evolving technology industries have revolutionized the country's modern-day workforce. But these new industries haven't made the old obsolete; if anything they've improved and reinvigorated them. While oil and coal are still at the forefront of the energy industry, natural gas, wind and solar power are becoming major players in the field.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, oil and gas extraction have seen an 89 percent increase in the last decade, much of it due to the enormous growth of natural gas extraction. Both solar power and wind power made the list of the top 10 fastest growing U.S. industries according to a recent IBISWorld report.

In 2010, wind power swept in almost $3.4 billion and solar power made $69 million. By 2016, it's projected that solar power will grow by nearly 8 percent and wind power by more than 11 percent.

And while the Great Recession in 2008 took its toll on the manufacturing and construction industries, areas that have been the backbone of the American workforce for generations, both are bouncing back.

According to a Business Insider report that looked at projected industry growth, construction and industrial machinery industries are expected to each grow by nearly 3 percent in the next five years (14 US Industries That Will Boom In The Next Decade).

Construction, which remains in the top 10 industries in the country, will grow from 5.6 million employees in 2012 to an expected 7.3 million by 2020. Manufacturing, the fourth largest industry in the U.S., will grow from 11.3 million employees to 15 million.

And while mechanization has impacted employment in manufacturing, the people who sell, install and maintain those machines are in demand now more than ever. Overall, the U.S. is expected to gain 20.5 million jobs by the year 2020.

Here again, it all comes back to people. That 20.5 million may seem like a nebulous number until you start to think about the overall economic impact that results -- to the employees and their families, not to mention the rest of us who will benefit from the products developed through human innovation and experience. For Americans, the expression "labor of love" is a testament to a value system based on free enterprise that comes from hard work. And it's a legacy we can still be proud of.