While I have voted in every election since I turned 18, I have never chosen to be beholden to a particular political party, as I was taught by my parents to “elect people and not parties.” I get it, I am in the minority, but this methodology does provide me with a mechanism to view each side’s actions in a (reasonably) nonpartisan way.I have been asked many times of late if I agree or disagree with President-elect Donald Trump’s actions regarding the jobs at Carrier. Simply put, any effort that saves American jobs is OK by me, especially when those positions are in a critical sector that has such a large GDP impact, such as manufacturing.
I do not see this type of effort as a long-term solution to the issues we face and, yes, there certainly a bit of grandstanding, but it was an important message to present to the American people that he will look to back up his promises regarding the support of businesses and (most importantly) those seeking jobs. I’m fine with our president standing up for our citizens.
That being said, I would certainly be remiss if I did not also mention the efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration, which have had a profound, positive impact on the manufacturing industry. This includes the advancement of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NIST-MEP program that the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program is a part of, and where our state alone (through NJMEP) has shown a $3.3 billion return on a federal investment of $30 million over the last 16 years.
This includes significant New Jersey gains in:
- New and retained sales;
- Process improvement savings;
- Capital facility and equipment spending;
- Over 28,000 jobs created or retained.
One must also include the significant National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, or NNMI, program instituted by Obama’s team that supports small- to mid-sized firms by connecting them with larger ones through a state-based, national Center of Excellence. Each Center (15 are planned) has a select focus on areas such as:
- Advanced/additive/3-D manufacturing;
- Materials science;
- Bio/pharma/life sciences.
Some see this as corporate welfare, but I disagree. It’s providing a boost to a key industry that has been pushed into the background over the past few decades and is now finally seeing a resurgence. This also assists in leveling the playing field, not unlike what our competitors around the globe currently enjoy.
Lastly, it has been an interesting read on what many of the political pundits are now mentioning as a way to deflate some of the gains made by manufacturing and STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in the past few years by stating that there will be no increase in jobs in these sectors due to everything being handling by robotics. This is considerably premature in judgment, as the technology is moving in that direction, but certainly not there yet. Not to mention that, as technology evolves, so does the worker. The machinist of yesterday is now looking to become a CNC programmer and operator. The electromechanical staffer is now adding PLC and controls skills to his or her education. In fact, we do not want the jobs that left us over the years back. There are now new, more productive ones, which need filling.
Interestingly enough, every single one of the more than 11,000 New Jersey manufacturers and STEM companies I speak with are in need of people: highly trained and more technically aware individuals. Manufacturers do not only need production people, but they require employees with expertise in business management, finance, engineering, technical sales and marketing, purchasing and more. These are complete businesses, and not simply the dirty and dimly-lit workshops of industrial mythology.
I may be overly optimistic, but I say it’s time again for U.S. manufacturing. And I know New Jersey will be in the middle of it. That’s not saying there is not a great deal yet to do, from the federal and state governments, to our educational system, to NJMEP and, yes, (even) to the parents and children that will not to be in the workforce for years. It’s time for us to lead the world again, and I support any president that understands the importance of manufacturing on our economy and on our middle class.
John Kennedy is the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, responsible for setting the strategic direction of NJMEP as well as business development, sales, strategic implementation partners and new initiatives. Kennedy has a long history in manufacturing, both as a senior executive and owner. He earned a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from La Salle University.