For the first time that I can recall, the conversation for all of us is the exact same thing. The coronavirus has reached all aspects of our life and turned everything upside-down. The natural breaks that we have relied on after other catastrophes – from 9/11 to the Great Recession to Superstorm Sandy – like sports, concerts and nightlife are systematically being removed from the mix.
To me this is unprecedented. And I feel somewhat lost.
Like everyone, my first concern is my family, then my team here at New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP). Then others, like those who struggle with hunger every day. Taking care of these individuals must be a priority. Period.
That being said, the next step is the recovery of businesses and the incomes that support our citizens. I suspect that the effects of the pandemic will be felt longer than the health conditions. And when it comes to learning lessons from the crisis, it is crucial that New Jersey use the past experiences from the Great Recession and Superstorm Sandy to recover more quickly than we have in the past.
To do so, we need to ride advanced manufacturing, STEM and innovation to provide the path to recovery. And to encourage growth.
Readers will know of my background, both before and during my tenure NJMEP and will no doubt detect a built-in bias toward these sectors. But I know that manufacturing has driven recovery after all major disasters – natural and man-made. Let’s stop wondering if manufacturing is dead and realize that it has never died, nor will it as long as we all require things in our lives.
In New Jersey alone, manufacturing– including bio-pharma, food, technology and logistics/supply chain – is carried out by 15,000 firms and more than 900,000 employees generating over $150 billion annually. The average wage in manufacturing is $92,097, according to the National Association of Manufacturing.
If we want all other sectors – retail, tourism, etc. – to recover, then people need to have their careers back.
So, let’s take a moment and look at the last few years and how several incidents provided our nation with warnings about the lack of security and control we have over our supply chain and how that puts New Jersey, and our entire country at risk.
The 2016 election exposed our cyber-vulnerability and demonstrated how everyone is risk. But we’ve made no real progress on this front. Companies across sectors simply refuse to move forward with a plan for protection. Many are more likely to pay ransomware fees than protect themselves.
The tariffs on steel and aluminum became a political football and while one can agree or disagree with them, the levies showed me that the damage done to this area decades ago has never been repaired. The fact is that we don’t make many of the types of steel and aluminum that we need in industries like defense, aerospace, automobiles and so many more.
Now comes the coronavirus, and we’re seeing even more – and more substantial – weaknesses. We are relying on foreign entities – it doesn’t really matter who – to provide us with medication, asthma inhalers and many other items. New Jersey was long known as the ‘Medicine Chest of the World’ but that title easily resides with China now.
To me this situation has nothing to do with xenophobia or any such thing. It stems from bad business practices. No company wants to rely on a single source of supply because doing so leads to higher prices, extended lead times and reduced quality due the absence of competition.
We must learn from past failures and choose a different direction. One that truly benefits New Jersey and the entire country.
We all know that the first order of business is to ensure that everyone is healthy and has proper care – including – food. People come first.
After that we need to ensure that our citizens have places to go back to work and in this state, that’s about 380,000 in total. If you add in supply chain and logistics, the number of jobs is even higher. While many are looking at a simple return to status quo, I am calling for something different.
Expand our supply chain. Build stronger pipelines for people through education. Provide careers and not just jobs.
New Jersey should lead the nation in recovery from the pandemic by investing in advanced manufacturing, STEM and innovation.
John Kennedy is the chief executive officer of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.