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First-time walker

The CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program explains the benefits of the annual Chamber of Commerce train ride to Washington

New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program Chief Executive Officer John Kennedy looks forward to taking part in the annual Walk to Washington Amtrak trip to Washington, D.C. sponsored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. The professional networking event connects politicians, business people, and journalists.

“Several of our clients have asked me to participate this year so I am going to give it a shot,” Kennedy said. “Our Chamber of Commerce is really good but NJMEP and the chamber run in different orbits.”

NJMEP is a nonprofit organization that assesses, consults, trains and advocates on behalf of manufacturing companies, helping businesses improve their profitability and competitiveness. According to NJMEP, it helped create or retain 36,951 jobs between the years 2000 to 2019.

Kennedy will be riding the train for the first time this year. Several years ago he drove to Washington, D.C. to listen to the speakers.

John Kennedy, CEO, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

Kennedy

“I want to hear what other sectors are discussing,” Kennedy said. “I am a novice. I am sure this is tremendously valuable. Otherwise, so many people would not do it. I hope to have a seat and ask questions to benefit NJMEP.” He added that he looks forward to speaking with legislators from the New Jersey Manufacturing Caucus.

The ride on the train lasts for hours, allowing for extended conversations in an informal setting.

“In future years, some of our board members who are manufacturers will take the train and have conversations,” Kennedy said. “If you do not listen, you cannot learn.”

Manufacturers lack lobbyists like other industries, Kennedy said.

“We push for the industry,” Kennedy said. “I think it is important that a variety of people are represented. We are a different entity. I am excited to listen on the train trip and speak with many different individuals. My assumption is by the time everybody comes back on the train on Friday, they will be worn out.”

The state has more than 378,000 manufacturing jobs with an average salary of more than $90,500 per year, Kennedy said. But New Jersey manufacturers grapple with misconceptions about manufacturing jobs being dangerous, low-wage, too hot, too cold, and in dirty environments.

The Chamber Train leaves the station Feb. 27, and our coverage begins in the Feb. 24 issue with a preview of the trip. It continues on the train with the NJBIZ Podcast; if you’re riding, stop by car No. 2 to meet members of our staff.

Employers are struggling to find qualified applicants who possess knowledge of equipment, processes, concepts and practices. They are also trying to train new employees on highly technical processes.

Kennedy and the organization he runs will be at the forefront of the effort to make the industry work in New Jersey.
Toward that end, he attended “Modern Solutions to Modern Manufacturing Problems” on Jan. 29, a conference organized by the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey recently at the East Hanover offices of Weiss-Aug, a manufacturer that provides custom insert injection molding, precision metal stamping, and assembly solutions for medical, automotive, and aerospace industries.

State Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14, and State Sen. Steven Oroho, R-24, also took part. “Senator Oroho stood up and said ‘this is amazing, I never would have guessed how incredible this place is and how high tech and well-organized and well-run and clean it is.’”

“You have got to expose people to stuff to learn,” Kennedy said. “I can tell you until I am blue in the face that manufacturing is a really robust and cool and high-tech industry but if I do not show you, you are not going to believe me. I want to expose people to the manufacturing industry.”

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.

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