“It’s important for everyone to hear what manufacturers are going through in this state.” John Kennedy, CEO of NJMEP cut straight to the heart of why all were gathered at the NJMEP State of the State. Manufacturers, Legislators, and STEM firms were all in attendance to share their thoughts on the future on the industry, and what they can do for a brighter New Jersey.
NJMEP launched into the day’s proceedings as Legislators, Manufacturers, and STEM Firm executives eagerly raised their concerns and questions about New Jersey’s manufacturing industry. Topics of the day included:
- The Minimum Wage
Important to all in attendance, and a decision that will ripple throughout the entire industry, the increase of New Jersey’s minimum wage was a hot-button topic that would impact every manufacturer from large to small. “The concern is not simply paying more for my entry-level positions,” one attendee said, “but that a pay increase for them will mean a pay increase across the board.”The value of skilled labor is vastly important to the modern manufacturer, and by asking them to pay more to the entry-level employee, the required increase across the board could cripple a company. In addition to an increase in minimum wage, companies are concerned that if the minimum wage is universally raised, there will be no motivation to move from an “unskilled” position to train in manufacturing.
Another major issue of concern was New Jersey’s famously high taxes, and lack of tax credits for those willing to stay local. Business owners struggle with meeting regulatory guidelines that, while in place for the safety and security of New Jersey’s citizens, can cost their businesses thousands of dollars. “Manufacturing contributes $46 billion to New Jersey’s economy,” said Michele Siekerka, CEO of the New Jersey Business Industry Association (NJBIA). “New Jersey businesses are the heart and soul of your communities.” So why then is New Jersey putting such pressure on its heart?
It’s because of this pressure that New Jersey manufacturers begin to consider relocating to a different state, robbing New Jersey of not only its most thriving industry but the means to employ more of its citizens. A manufacturer in attendance succinctly said, “We are not just competing with other companies in the state, we are competing with the entire country.” He continued, “How can I expect to compete with other manufacturers when the state they are producing from requires much less of them?” Echoing this sentiment during the second day of the State of the State, a manufacturer said, “There are hundreds of jobs tied to the manufacturing industry outside of the facilities. We can’t see this as just effecting inner-factory work.”
Education is an incredibly important element to raising the awareness of manufacturing as a viable career choice, and without that base to help kids understand it’s not the old days of manufacturing, people will not join the industry. “New Jersey is the number one out-migrater of 19-34-year-olds in the nation,” Michele Siekerka said. With education being so important in New Jersey, why then are we preventing students from seeing the full picture? A pervasive issue facing all manufacturers has always been the perception that their workplaces are dangerous, dark, and reserved for the lower educated. This could not be further from the truth, and efforts must be made at the earliest levels to change this stigma. Thankfully, the fight to change this image is of major importance to many. President of the County College of Morris, Anthony Iacono, announced plans to open a sprawling manufacturing facility at his school. His hope is to finish construction of the manufacturing training facility by 2019, a first of many huge steps in the right direction.
A speaker of note in attendance was Migdalia Rosado, CEO of Primex PR, and proud member of the Puerto Rico business community. Repeatedly devastated by natural disaster, Puerto Rico suffered crippling infrastructure damage, loss of cell service, and an island-spanning blackout that lasted for months. Without power, families were forced to rely on limited cash amounts from overcrowded banks, and no access to their digital information; Information like medical records, payroll software, or any form of computing. It is estimated that Puerto Rico suffered over $9.4 billion dollars of damages. However, Migdalia did not come with a message of woe, but rather one of preparedness. “Do not react in the face of Chaos,” Migdalia said, “Respond.” By adopting this attitude in the face of overwhelming adversity, Puerto Rico has begun the long road to a full recovery. Manufacturing has already started to take root amidst the damage, with the aerospace, apparel, R&D, and electronics industries growing on the island.
The State of the State is an occasion where all those determined to improve the manufacturing industry can take part. Through the sharing of opinions, discussing of pitfalls, and the proposal of solutions, we move step-by-step into a better future for manufacturing and the great state of New Jersey. NJMEP, responsible for putting the State of the State together, intends to use information gathered from surveys, polls, and shared opinions to better target improvements for our State’s manufacturers.