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Whither Manufacturing?

Posted by: Hank Hyatt on Thursday, September 5, 2013
[caption id="attachment_221" align="alignnone" width="280" caption="US Congressman Trey Gowdy speaks to the Manufacturers Roundtable group at the Chamber on September 4, 2013."] [/caption] The manufacturing sector employed almost 95,000 individuals in the Upstate region in 2012, an increase of almost 5,000 persons since 2010.  We know that manufacturing is certainly not going away.  It is, however, certainly changing in myriad ways.  We have seen waves of change in manufacturing over the past 20 years.  At one point, many manufacturers sought out the cheapest markets in which to produce their goods.  According to the US Department of Commerce, US Corporations cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million jobs during the 2000s while increasing overseas employment by 2.4 million. However, that trend is reversing. “Nearsourcing” and “reshoring” are two terms that now are coming to the forefront of manufacturing leadership circles. Thanks to rising wage rates in China, higher transportation costs, increased political risk factors, etc. , more companies are looking to reshore operations in the U.S.  In fact, there is growing support from entities such as the national Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs to help manufacturers understand the “Total Cost of Ownership” of overseas operations with long supply chains.  (For a related article, see IndustryWeek).  This bodes well for both that nation as well as the Palmetto State. To support increased levels of manufacturing in the region, workforce challenges must be overcome.  Too many manufacturers are having trouble finding highly skilled employees critical for their success.  According a recent news story, one local staffing agency reported having to recruit from out of state to fill up to 400 local manufacturing jobs. The issue at hand is exposing talent (from even the earliest years of schooling) to the various opportunities in the manufacturing field.   The Greenville County Council’s recent decision to support Greenville Tech’s Enterprise Campus proposal is a critical component of ensuring that students understand these opportunities and can access training utilizing cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.  In addition to the Enterprise Campus, much work has been done over the past several years to ensure a sufficient supply of skilled labor through the Grenville Regional Workforce Collaborative, Apprenticeship Carolina, the Work Ready Communities Initiative, etc. In a recent meeting between the Greenville Chamber’s Manufacturers Roundtable and US Congressman Trey Gowdy, two issues dominated: workforce availability and cost pressures, especially aggravated by health care uncertainty and debt issues.  There is a window of opportunity for the Upstate region to build its lead in the manufacturing sector.  We are seeing jobs coming back to the US and we are making significant strides toward creating a more skilled workforce that can fill those jobs. The community must embrace that opportunity.  If a manufacturing company locates in the Upstate region and cannot find the employees it needs, the word will soon spread to other firms seeking to relocate to South Carolina and all of the positive momentum we have built over the past several decades will stall.  Focused efforts from a variety of partners will ensure that this does not happen.

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