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Lesson 1: Tis the Season:

Examining the Challenges of Seasonal Manufacturing in the American Economy

Overview

What place does seasonal manufacturing have in the American economy? What challenges do seasonal businesses face during troubled economic times? How can such businesses adapt to the evolving marketplace? Support your Economics or History curriculum with this video that introduces students to Just Born, a candy manufacturer in Pennsylvania that is adapting its seasonal business model to changing times. Then, use the accompanying lesson plan to have students interview local merchants, employers, workers, or community members to examine the role of and challenges to local seasonal industries in the American economy.  

Materials

Background

In the first half of the nineteenth century, American industry grew exponentially, thanks to the growth of manufacturing. From textile milling to agricultural production, manufacturing was the heart of the American economy through much of the 20th century, helping America rise to its place as a global economic superpower. 

Manufacturing shaped America. From shore to shore, our identity has been defined by the things we make and the way we make them. But manufacturing is not what is used to be. What we used to make ourselves can today be made more cheaply abroad; so cheaply, in fact, that the American economy imports 60 percent of everything we buy, in comparison to the 1960s when foreign goods made up just 8 percent of Americans’ purchases. This infographic nicely illustrates this imbalance. 

Today, the United States has fewer manufacturing jobs than it had in 1941. What implication does that have on the American economy? In this episode, we examine a thriving Peeps candy factory in the heart of Pennsylvania—what was once the birthplace of American manufacturing—to get a first-hand taste of how manufacturing businesses are adapting to and innovating in challenging economic times. 

Featured Vocabulary

  • manufacturing – the process through which raw materials are transformed into a finished product
  • peak production – the most busy time of manufacturing in a given season or year; 
  • seasonal sales –  businesses whose income and sales are dependent upon a specific season, time of year, or event profit  – the return or gain received by a business after all operating expenses have been met
  • supply – the total amount of a specific good or service that is available to consumers. demand – a consumer’s desire and willingness to pay a price for a specific good or service. 
  • consumer – a person who purchases goods or services

Warm Up

Share the following quote with students (taken from the video): “Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was a birthplace of American manufacturing. But the days of the blast furnaces are long gone. And in the Lehigh Valley, another American icon has risen from the ashes.” Invite students to read a background essay on the historical role of manufacturing in Pennsylvania, specifically Lehigh Valley which is available here.

Then, ask: Why is Pennsylvania an important place? What kinds of industries were born and grew there and when? Why are the days of blast furnaces gone? What do you imagine has replaced them? 

Discussion Questions

Have students watch the video while taking notes on the following. Afterwards, use the following questions to assess comprehension and prompt discussion:  

  • When was the Just Born factory opened and where? What is the importance of its location? 
  • Write down interesting or important statistics, figures, or numbers that come up during the video.  What story do these numbers tell?
  • What challenges does Just Born’s management face? What factors do they have to think about ahead of time in order to succeed? 
  • What happens to the workers and labor force in a seasonal factory like Just Born? 
  • How has Peeps adapted to its challenges to make sure that there is a Peep for all seasons? 
  • What are some key challenges that Mark Wright, the factory manager, shares with other managers around the country?

Activity

Divide students into groups to brainstorm a list of seasonal businesses and jobs, with particular focus on their local communities. You might create four quadrants on the board, one for each season, then have students brainstorm holidays that tall into each quandrant. 

Once a master list is generated, have students select a specific industry to research, then select a local business or individual to interview. For example, if you live in a beach community, they might interview the owner of a souvenir shop or a fisherman. If you live in an urban setting, they could interview a florist to learn more about how they handle the Valentine’s Day rush or talk to a pop-up store merchant to find out more about their business. The reproducible “What’s Your Seasonal Story?” [link] provides a list of key questions that can be used to guide an interview.

Afterwards, have students present and share their observations and interviews with the whole group.  

Going Further

Have students use their research and interviews to work in groups to develop reports in innovative ways inspired by these Peeps dioramas at the Washington Post. They can integrate audio or video recordings, photographs, and statistics., as well as incorporate data visualization tools such as graphs, audio, photos, etc.in their presentations. 

Resources

  • Made in America  ABC News series focusing on American manufacturers
  • Seasonal Industries Overview article with list of industries from Employment Security Department 

Standards

Economics

 Standard 3. Understands the concept of prices and the interaction of supply and demand in a market economy

Standard 4. Understands basic features of market structures and exchanges  Standard 5. Understands unemployment, income, and income distribution in a market economy
History

Standard 16. Understands how the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society

Standard 46. Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history

Language Arts

Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Business Education

 Standard 16. Knows characteristics and features of viable business opportunities

Standard 17. Understands that cultural difference, export/import opportunities, and current trends in a global marketplace can affect an entrepreneurial venture

Standard 19. Understands the characteristics and components of a business planStandard 37. Understands the role of quality and continuous improvement in business organizations

Standard 43.  Understands the roles of marketing and the impact of marketing on the individual, business, and society

Standard 48. Understands the selling process and forecasting principles and methods used to determine sales potential for specific products

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