Guest blog post by Jay Williams, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
When I was growing up, manufacturing work was all about having a strong back and a strong work ethic. These days, manufacturing has changed. The first Friday in October each year marks Manufacturing Day, and today more than 1,500 manufacturers nationwide are opening their doors to host open houses, public tours, career workshops, and other events, in order to show people what manufacturing is – and what it isn’t. There is a lack of understanding of present-day manufacturing environments, which are highly technical. Manufacturing Day provides manufacturers with the opportunity to address the skilled labor shortage they face, connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing, and ensure the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry.
In honor of Manufacturing Day, I was joined by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and faculty members for an event at Wichita State University (WSU) in South Kansas. The region is a leader in manufacturing, and the University is a key member of the South Kansas Manufacturing Community consortium, which U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced as one of the 12 Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) designated communities in May. While there, I announced a $1.9 million EDA grant to WSU to support advanced manufacturing. According to the grantee, the project will create 500 jobs and further regional capabilities in advanced manufacturing, with an emphasis on automated additive manufacturing innovation, and will provide competitive advantage for the transportation equipment manufacturing industry. These innovative technologies will also be applied to the emerging medical equipment manufacturing cluster in the region.
While in Wichita, I got to see first-hand the sort of operations that have made South Kansas a leader in manufacturing. I was treated to a Manufacturing Day tour of the Wichita Operations of Bombardier-Learjet facility, where a critical EDA investment helped expand operations in 2012. The facility is truly impressive – as is the finished product.
President Obama, the Commerce Department, and EDA are all committed to supporting manufacturing, because manufacturing creates good jobs with the largest multiplier effect of any part of the economy. In the last fiscal year, EDA invested in 89 manufacturing projects, totaling nearly $78 million. The projects were diverse, representing different industries, different geographies, and different community needs. Half of these projects were construction projects, which created more than 7,000 jobs and generated nearly $4.3 billion in private investment.
Jobs like the 7,000 created by EDA projects last year provide a key path to the middle class with workers earning 17 percent more than those employed in similar sectors – and manufacturing is growing. Since February 2010, manufacturing employment has climbed at the fastest pace in decades. Since the end of the recession, more than 700,000 quality jobs have been created, and the industry currently supports more than more than 16 million U.S. jobs in manufacturing and its associated supply chains. A strong manufacturing sector also helps ensure America remains competitive on a global scale.
For the first time in more than 10 years, both manufacturing output and employment are growing. Manufacturing Day highlights the importance of manufacturing to the economy and draws attention to the many rewarding high-skill jobs available in the field. So, I encourage you to take advantage of the events happening today – or find time to tour a manufacturing facility. You’ll see that while a strong back and a strong work ethic don’t hurt, modern manufacturing requires a whole lot more.