Manufacturing hits three-year high; One Voice working to keep air in sector’s sails

Even as manufacturing booms, the struggle to find manufacturing workers remains a significant problem. One Voice is actively seeking solutions to the problem by holding numerous advocacy campaigns and events.

By NTMA & PMA September 5, 2014

Headlines in newspapers across the country this week heralded the news. "U.S. Manufacturing Grows at Fastest Pace in Three Years" pronounced Bloomberg. "US manufacturing soars to 3-year high," exclaimed Reuters.

The commotion is the result of a very positive new report released by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). The report determined that the pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector rose in August to its highest level since March 2011.

According to a Reuters poll of economists, the factory activity numbers exceeded many economists’ expectations.

As news of the results reverberated through the U.S. manufacturing community, success stories emerged from all corners of the country. Two stories published within days of each other highlight two different faces of manufacturing in America today.

A story in the Star Tribune in Minnesota celebrated the success of manufacturing businesses in the state, pointing out that many operate in towns with populations of 500 people or even fewer. That fact is especially striking when manufacturing business employ large percentages of entire towns. The article highlights Massmann Automation Designs, a packaging line company in the town of Villard which employs 150 of the town’s 250 residents.

Meanwhile, the LA Times demonstrated that manufacturing bright spots aren’t isolated to quaint Midwest towns. The paper pointed to new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that the largest manufacturing workforce in the country is based in the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana metropolitan area. According to the article, success in this region is fueled by facilities producing transportation equipment, apparel, fabricated metal products, computers, and electronics.

So the temptation with this good news might be think that all in the U.S. manufacturing is well and that there is no need to pay any more attention to the sector.

But, as the LA Times pointed out, even as manufacturing booms, the struggle to find manufacturing workers remains a significant problem. As the sector gains strength, local companies want to ramp up hiring, but are having trouble doing so. The article quotes an executive at Goldbrecht-Systems USA of Culver City who says the company needs more staff to meet demand, but finding qualified workers has been difficult. "The education level and skill sets of the workers here is not ideal," the executive said.

And this is not only a problem in California. Precision Metalforming Association board member Troy Turnbull made the same case when, as the Michigan-focused online news source MLive reported, he brought U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga to tour his facility at Industrial Innovations.

According to the news story, while showing Huizenga the investments he has made in his shop, Turnbull explained that he needs help training workers to operate the machines.

"We have all these new machines that nobody has any idea of how to run," Turnbull is quoted as saying. "The training is expensive," he added.

But Turnbull didn’t wait for the Congressman to come to him. The MLive article notes that Turnbull recently traveled to Washington, D.C as part of the "One Voice summit" to share his experience and insight with Members of Congress and congressional staff.

The article is referring to the Annual One Voice Legislative Conference when One Voice members gather in Washington, DC and meet with top lawmakers on issues of significance to the manufacturing sector. See a brochure about this year’s event – the 7th annual! – here. The 2015 Legislative Conference is scheduled for April 21-22, 2015.

Of course, it’s not just the federal government that can serve as an ally in bolstering the U.S. manufacturing workforce. Ohio Governor John Kasich appeared on August 28 at the PMA member company facility Stamco Industries. According to an article about the event in the News-Herald, Kasich discussed the importance of manufacturing to the state’s economy. He also addressed the important issue of education. The article says that Kasich emphasized vocational training along with two- and four-year college degrees. And, in an interesting new element, said that students will soon be able use their smartphones to explore the local job market and map out a career path.

While One Voice members and other manufacturers across the country sometimes look to government partners and allies, we also employ our own strategies for attracting more people to the American manufacturing workforce. One example of those efforts is next month’s MFG Day activities. In our last blog post here, we described the event, scheduled for October 3 this year, in which manufacturing facilities all across the country will open their doors so that students, parents, job seekers, and other community members can experience modern manufacturing technology and learn about careers in the sector. NTMA and PMA are sponsors of this year’s MFG Day. You learn more about specific activities planned for the day here.

This week’s news about the impressive growth of the U.S. manufacturing sector is certainly very positive. But we know that we cannot be content to rest on our victories. Our ship is sailing and, at One Voice, we’re determined to keep the wind in our sails.

Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media,