WBJ: Forging a new age of manufacturing in Central Mass.
As originally appearing in The Worcester Business Journal

Special to the Worcester Business Journal

Central Massachusetts has a long, proud history in manufacturing. While the products have changed, the region and state remain at the forefront of a new wave of manufacturing: “advanced manufacturing.”

In Massachusetts, nearly 56 percent of all manufacturing jobs are now classified as “advanced.” The age-old stereotype of manufacturing as being dark, dangerous and in decline has been replaced with a 21st-century model of advanced, advantageous and accelerating.

To sustain this momentum and promote the new manufacturing brand, The New England Council and Deloitte Consulting recently released “Advanced to Advantageous: The Case for New England’s Manufacturing Revolution.” The report assesses the region’s strengths and advantages, identifies opportunities for collaboration and investment, and provides a roadmap for more growth and competitiveness.

The detailed report also offers six recommendations for manufacturers, educators, lawmakers and others that reinforce the importance of regional collaboration.

New England is a small place. Stakeholders in all six states must work together to create comprehensive educational pathways that ensure lifelong learning and the transferability of learning credits. We must also focus on improving manufacturing’s brand and attracting new workers by showcasing today’s safe, innovative and well-paying advanced manufacturing jobs.

This effort requires aligning both state and federal policies with industry needs. We urge state policymakers to ensure that advanced manufacturing is included in states’ economic development and job creation plans.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has already created a Workforce Skills Cabinet, made up of the secretaries of labor and workforce development, education, and housing and economic development, to address the persistent skills gap. This offers an opportunity for other state leaders to follow the governor’s lead.

State officials should also begin a regular dialogue with their counterparts in the other five states to compare ideas, exchange best practices, and make each other aware of “islands of excellence” that can be adopted across state lines.

Finally, leaders should work together to ensure New England secures federal funding for an advanced manufacturing hub under the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative (NNMI). That could be a game changer, acting as an effective and responsive “teaching factory” to address the industry’s challenges and train the skilled workforce New England needs.

Central Massachusetts and all of New England can extend their advantage in manufacturing for decades. What we need is a collaborative revolution to see it through.

James T. Brett is president and CEO of The New England Council, a nonpartisan alliance of public and private organizations that promotes economic growth throughout the region. Mark Price is a principal with Deloitte Consulting and a member of the NEC’s board of directors.

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