WORCESTER T&G: NE manufacturing strong
As originally appearing in The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

By James T. Brett

Oct. 3 marks National Manufacturing Day, a nationwide effort to ensure Americans — most especially our students — encounter and understand the critical role manufacturing plays both in local communities and for the entire nation. Perhaps nowhere is that relationship stronger and more vital than in New England.

Manufacturing has long been one of our region’s leading economic drivers. Mill towns like Lowell, Massachusetts; Lewiston-Auburn, Maine; and Manchester, New Hampshire built the middle class and powered our economic growth. Over time, advances in technology have led to a transformation in the industry, with highly-skilled manufacturing companies like Raytheon, New Balance, and General Electric becoming household names.

In 2009, the New England Council, in partnership with Deloitte, released a report highlighting the key advantages our region holds when it comes to the next generation of manufacturing, often called “advanced manufacturing.”

A quick look at New England’s varied strengths in today’s manufacturing economy demonstrates the depth of New England’s leg up. Massachusetts is highly regarded for its medical device sector; Connecticut is a leader in aerospace manufacturing; defense electronics plays a prominent role in New Hampshire’s economy; semiconductors drive Vermont’s manufacturing sector; and Maine and Rhode Island are home to world-class military shipbuilding facilities.

The fact of the matter is, this new generation of manufacturing is not dark, dirty, dangerous, or declining. Instead, it has evolved into a vibrant and growing sector of our region’s economy. And there is reason for continued optimism on the horizon.

The New England Economic Partnership (NEEP) has estimated an increase of 1.3 percent in manufacturing employment from 2012 through 2016.

Moving forward, as NEEP’s Spring 2013 New England Economic Outlook noted, “to grow manufacturing (and exceed the NEEP forecasts) will require linking manufacturing more strongly to research and development strengths in the region, and ensuring an appropriately skilled work force for advanced manufacturing across the region.”

New England manufacturers are innovative, resourceful, and on the cutting edge. So how can we help them continue and even expand this advantage? One of the best ways to do that is through legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy that recently passed the House and is pending in the Senate, with broad bipartisan support in both chambers.

The Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation, or RAMI, Act would create a nationwide network of advanced manufacturing centers that will act as “hubs” for our diverse manufacturing companies, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, and small business supply chain.

The RAMI Act is exactly the kind of forward-thinking solution that can get people excited about manufacturing. By establishing of a nationwide network of these centers, industry, nonprofits, and academia will have an effective and responsive research infrastructure for a “teaching factory” that allows them to solve relevant problem related to advanced manufacturing.

These hubs would conduct research and development, conceptualization, and prototyping as well as work on time, cost, and risk reduction involving the commercial application of technologies and processes.

One of the most important outcomes would be the training of the nation’s future advanced manufacturing workforce at a time when we face a growing skills gap. By exposing more Americans to the high-paying, highly-skilled jobs of manufacturing, we can improve the prospects for the sector’s continued success and our continued economic rebound.

Like many across our nation, the New England Council sees advanced manufacturing as a driving force for job creation and economic growth for years to come, and has long-supported efforts to enhance that position.

Our 2009 report discussed at length the potential for growth in the advanced manufacturing sector for our region, noting that “[t]hrough a more focused collaboration of industry, government, and education, advanced manufacturing can be enhanced and expanded.” The manufacturing hubs established through this legislation have the potential to fulfill that goal.

With its first class workforce, excellent academic credentials, and sophisticated industry, New England has much to gain by actions that promote advanced manufacturing and efforts to secure one of these centers in the region.

James T. Brett is the President & CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.

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