The history of manufacturing in New Jersey is the history of manufacturing in America. Historians can
trace the birth of the country’s political economy to Paterson – where Alexander Hamilton sought to
demonstrate how manufacturing would lead to national prosperity and an international leadership role,
if not hegemony, for the new nation.
In the latter half of the 20 the century, as U.S. manufacturing declined, so too did the industry in New
Jersey. In fact, New Jerseyans couldn’t be blamed for believing that the industry long ago went south –
figuratively and literally.
But the plants and assembly lines are still here. And as in many other states, the factories do look and
sound a lot different now, turning out products with machines that consumers and industrialists of the
past wouldn’t recognize. While the demand for those new products and the productivity gains afforded
by modern equipment are fueling a revitalization of the industry, the skills required to work in today’s
factories creates a challenge for manufacturers.
Simply put, the industry must update its image and convince smart, talented young people that they can
have bright futures and long careers in manufacturing.
Of course, manufacturers also face more prosaic problems – taxes, regulation and security to name a
few. But in conversations with business owners, corporate executives and government officials, NJBIZ
staff members hear the same refrain: we need to train a new generation of workers.
And that challenge is likely to deepen in the coming years. While New Jersey manufacturing experts
often note that students can get good jobs in the industry without going to college, a recent Wall Street
Journal story suggests that need for higher-level skills is “driving up the education level” required on
“Within the next three years, American manufacturers are, for the first time, on track to employ more
college graduates than workers with a high-school education or less, part of a shift toward automation
that has increased factory output, opened the door to more women and reduced prospects for lower-
skilled workers,” the Journal reported.
Fortunately for New Jersey’s economy, businesses owners, executives and policymakers seem to
recognize that shift. The state already boasts a top-rated educational system. Those schools, combined
with a proliferation of apprenticeship programs, a renewed focus on community colleges more funding
for vocation-technical education programs should keep students here ahead of the curve.
The men and women listed in these pages have been and will continue to be responsible for maintaining
and expanding the skilled workforce necessary for a strong manufacturing sector. They are worthy
keepers of the Hamiltonian legacy.