UNION LEADER: Kuster: Rebrand manufacturing as high tech, lucrative, growing
As originally appearing in The Union Leader

By CYRUS MOLTON
Union Leader Correspondent

 

HOOKSETT — To many, the idea of manufacturing connotes Dickensian squalor or assembly line drudgery. But a report presented to business, political and educational leaders Tuesday seeks to rebrand and expand manufacturing as a high-tech, lucrative and growing industry with a bright future in New England.

“Our impression of manufacturing is not up to date,” said U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the keynote speaker at a presentation of the report. “It’s everything we do, everything we use, and everything we make … there are fantastic technologies and new ideas coming to market … but there are impediments.”

Business, academic and policy leaders gathered Tuesday morning at GE Aviation in Hooksett for a presentation of a new report entitled “Advanced to Advantageous: The Case for New England’s Manufacturing Revolution.” Commissioned in 2014 by The New England Council, a nonpartisan business alliance that promotes policy to improve quality of life and economic growth in New England, the study was completed by Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Consultants interviewed 150 business, economic, political and educational leaders in the six New England states and analyzed economic and manufacturing trends to recommend how to grow, promote and retain what have emerged as unique manufacturing industry “clusters” in New England.

These clusters of interconnected businesses, research institutions, advocacy organizations and the businesses that support them have developed in fields including medical devices and biotechnology, complex electronics, precision machining, and aeronautics and defense.

But while these clusters have their roots in New England’s history at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, education, and business technology, consultants learned that manufacturing has greatly changed since the days of Manchester’s textile mills.

“One might suggest that the four ‘D’s’ of manufacturing (Dirty, Dark, Dangerous and Declining) be replaced by the four ‘A’s’ of advanced manufacturing: Advanced, Advantaged, Added-value, and Accelerating,” the report states in an executive summary.

The report ties New England’s manufacturing future to advanced manufacturing — described by Deloitte Principal Peter Heron as innovative design with advanced materials, advanced machines and advanced manufacturing techniques.

Of the 640,640 manufacturing jobs in New England, 58.77 percent are in advanced manufacturing, based on 2012 Census data and the analysis by Deloitte. More locally in New Hampshire, 64.55 percent of the manufacturing jobs in 2012 were considered advanced and offered a median annual wage of $70,000 to $80,000, according to the study.

Advanced manufacturing also has recovered from the recession faster than traditional manufacturing, growing at 7 percent and decreasing by 13 percent, respectively. While living and labor costs are higher in New England than in other regions of the country and the world, the networks of businesses, research institutions and educational institutions that form these clusters helps mitigate such high costs.

But to continue growing the industry, the study recommends some tweaks.

Most notably, the study found that there are 18,000 advanced manufacturing jobs in New England that are unfilled because there are no qualified workers. Had those jobs been filled, the industry would have grown by 12 rather than 7 percent since the recession, the study concludes. Moreover, the average age of a manufacturing worker is 56, the study noted.

“Respondents said education and the skills gap was not just the #1 issue; it was the #1, #2, and #3 issue,” Alison Lands, a senior manager with Deloitte, reported.

Other potential hindrances to advanced manufacturing included: that many small and medium-sized businesses are not able to access the technology, talent, and tools available to big multinational corporations; policy incentives such as training and tax credits are not aligned to the needs of the industry; a complex regulatory environment; and the high cost of business.

But the study, and a panel of representatives from academia, government and business, had some suggestions to address these issues.

GE Aviation Hooksett Plant Manager Doug Folsom advocated new technology to save money — noting how three-dimensional printing had reduced the cost of one engine part by two-thirds. He also said GE has programs with local colleges where internships can qualify as prerequisites for an entry-level job. Such programs align with the report’s goal of creating “pathways” for workers which will provide them with an education, on-site training, and careers. Jeff Rose, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, echoed consultants in stressing increased collaboration among the New England states and promoting the region, not just individual states.

Keynote speaker Kuster stressed affordable higher education, promoting an education bill that gives companies tax credits for partnering with community colleges. She also stressed improvements to transportation networks including finishing the I-293 repairs and eventually bringing commuter rail to Nashua and hopefully Manchester.

But Kuster acknowledged the state budget woes present another challenge to the public-private partnerships recommended in the study. But this is a challenge that New England’s best minds could creatively solve.

“When you don’t have funding pouring down on you, you have to rely on ingenuity, chutzpah and duct tape … and you find a way,” Kuster said.

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