The U.S. Secretary of Labor says manufacturing jobs are rushing back to the United States, and he says young people with the skills to take those jobs will have a 'solid ticket to the middle class,' Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

  Thomas E. Perez stopped at Alamo Colleges Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Academy on the southwest side, were the colleges are working together with local manufacturers like Toyota and Lockheed Martin to train students on manufacturing trades.

  Perez says manufacturing has bad PR these days, largely because of its image as repetitive, dirty 'drudge' work with employees who are little more than robots.  But he says that is an outdated depiction of manufacturing.

  "Manufacturing is cool," he said.  "I go to these assembly lines and there are people walking around with iPads.  This is not your father's manufacturing any more."

  Several factors are combining to make the U.S. a more attractive place for manufacturing jobs, many of which fled to places ranging from Latin America to China in the 1970s.

  First and foremost is the U.S. natural gas boom.  Natural gas is the fuel of choice for most factories, and the lower price of natural gas today in the U.S. makes this a good place to set up manufacturing facilities, with Texas in the lead.

  Also, wages are rising in places like China so the wage advantage that employers saw in the 1970s is narrowing.  Higher fuel prices mean the costs of transporting manufactured products to U.S. consumers is growing, and the rise of dysfunctional governments in places like Venezuela and Honduras is making overseas investments more risky, and more subject to nationalization.

  Perez says another key to building a solid U.S. manufacturing work force is to convince Baby Boomer parents, most of whom were raised on the idea that a traditional four year college is the only path to true success, and people who don't go to traditional colleges are 'failures,' that those ideas are outdated. 

  "Many parents have an image of apprenticeship and the skilled trades as something that is really yesterday's paradigm," he said.

  Perez also stressed the importance of raising the minimum wage in the United States, to make sure that all of those manufactured products can be purchased by consumers who can afford them.  He says the biggest problem facing the U.S. economy today is a 'crisis of consumption.'

  "70% of GDP growth in consumption," he said.  "When people buy things, whether its goods or services, that's how you grow the economy."