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The death of manufacturing may have been exaggerated August 19, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Opinion, Research, Workforce.
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Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and his staff released the results of a study that indicates that manufacturing is growing nicely in the Keystone State, thank you.

Of the more than 350 Pennsylvania manufacturers sampled, the survey found nearly three quarters experienced increased sales over the past two years, and 88 percent generated a profit in 2005.

Manufacturing contributes almost $73 billion to Pennsylvania’s annual gross state product, or more than 17 percent of the total. More than 682,000 Pennsylvanians earn good family wages in direct manufacturing jobs in the commonwealth.

I would venture to guess that similar studies in other historically manufacturing-based states would largely reveal the same results.  Other than domestic auto suppliers, I’m hearing positive news from northeast Indiana’s manufacturers.

Yes, manufacturing requires fewer people to operate in the 21st century.  Efforts like automation and process improvements (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.) have made growth in manufacturing productivity possible without ballooning the workforce.

At the same time, the workforce that remains requires a skill set that more resembles a computer programmer than a 1970’s assembly line worker.  If states and communities are really serious about  retaining (never mind building) their manufacturing bases, they must invest in new skill sets.  A great example of this realignmen of manufacturing skills is the forthcoming Ivy Tech Community College Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which was funded through the Northeast Indiana Strategic Skills Initiative.  Another good Strategic Skills Initiative effort toward manufacturing was developed in the Northern Indiana region, which focusses on developing a skilled workforce for the lucrative and successful orthopedic industry.

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