Reflections: What Made in New Jersey means to me

John Kennedy//September 27, 2021//

Reflections: What Made in New Jersey means to me

John Kennedy//September 27, 2021//

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Welding with mig-mag method

I have been in the engineering and manufacturing sectors for most of my adult life. The business has been both my career and my passion. I literally feel blessed to have had this opportunity, as it has provided well for my family and challenged me to take several positive life risks.

Yes, there have been highs and some lows, but I never struggled to go to work.

Then came the pandemic and so many things changed. It’s too obvious to state the fears and concerns for family, friends and teammates because everyone was dealing with the same challenges. What I do remember as unique is an entire Industry coming quietly together to make a profound impact on all of us.

I say this because there were no yard banners or commercials or celebrity tweets citing the role of manufacturing during this unprecedented time in our lives. The only mentions came when there were brief shortages of select products – namely toilet paper. Otherwise, we generally had more than enough to feed us, to medicate us, to protect us and sustain us. For the most part these were not items shipped from overseas, but in many cases, from right down the street.

John Kennedy, CEO, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

That’s Made in New Jersey to me.

Manufacturing, and partner businesses like engineering and transportation & logistics in New Jersey stood up and did the job. And yes, these firms were also fighting the fallout from the illness that included reduced staffing levels.

Pointing out the role manufacturing played is certainly not meant as a negative comment on our frontline medical personnel or police officers, firefighters and other first responders. I also remain in awe of those individuals who staffed our food stores, or those I met at Quick-Check and 7-Eleven every single day as well. I just see this as a much-needed shout-out for an Industry that too many of us thought had withered away.

The industry includes 11,000 firms and their more than 350,000 employees, as they kept at it – every day – for the last year and a half. With no fanfare.

That’s Made in New Jersey to me.

The average Manufacturing firm in New Jersey has 34 employees, but that relatively low number has not hampered productivity as automation and higher-tech processes drive many of our companies. We could once differentiate “Advanced Manufacturing” firms from others, but not anymore. The industry 4.0 has created a proverbial new normal for the Industry.

Part of this new reality includes the expansion of the educational needs for all who pursue manufacturing as a career. The annual research that NJMEP does in the state has us at about 44,000 open positions, and data from the National Association of Manufacturing show that the average annual income (including overtime) remains over $90,000.

That’s Made in New Jersey to me.

Let’s be ready to consider and take on these challenges:

Reshoring opportunities of products and firms
Expanded supply chain needs
Made in the USA opportunities through federal contracting
Off-Shore wind manufacturing, fabrication, installation and maintenance
PPE and life sciences challenges
Upskilling and educational grants from federal sources
Expansion of the manufacturing-USA institutes, national and regional

Finally, as a state – industry and government together – we need to define what Made in the USA and Made in New Jersey actually means to us, and how we are going to positively engage to bring in more opportunities for our businesses and for our neighbors. We all know that The Garden State is an expensive area, but it’s also a great place to live and raise a family. That aspiration needs to be available to all of us.

Seems doable, but we’re not ready to take this on as yet. Let’s get together and lead from the front.

That is Made in New Jersey to me.

John Kennedy is the president and CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program