During its first ever State of the State of Manufacturing last month, NJMEP brought together over 200 New Jersey Manufacturers and STEM Firms for an opportunity to speak with state officials and lawmakers about their concerns. The two-day event, held in both the southern (Trenton) and northern (Florham Park) parts of the state, featured a series of presentations, panel discussions and networking events where the challenges and opportunities facing the industry were openly and vigorously discussed.
NJMEP partnered with other business-advocacy groups, including the Morris County Chamber, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, to draft an agenda that gave Garden State officials an accurate picture of the state’s manufacturing sector.
On the minds of the industry’s leading senior executives were concerns about small business tax codes, permits, environmental regulations and what to expect from the Trump administration.
“Small businesses and medium-sized businesses really are the economic engine here in New Jersey and we have a real variety of them. We need to support them, give them opportunities to expand, give them what they need in terms of tax credits and a workforce that can do the jobs for them so that they stay here,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.
Interestingly enough, the single most critical challenge emerging from the discussions was a pronounced need to attract and retain a qualified workforce. New Jersey’s 10,000+ manufacturers and STEM firms represent a $50 billion industry that employs more than 360,000 people in the state.
“We have great schools in New Jersey, at every level, but no real program management goals when it comes to vocational schooling, and that’s where the NJMEP is critical,” said John W. Kennedy, Ph.D. CEO of New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. “We are working hard to make sure our New Jersey manufacturers get the skilled labor force they need to stay competitive globally.”
“New Jersey is the birthplace of manufacturing in the U.S., and yet we’re also the largest exporter of our talented young people, which threatens the economy of the state,” said Dr. Don Sebastian, of New Jersey Innovation Institute. “Jersey manufacturing is a vibrant contributor to the national economy, and we need to make our young people see there are good jobs right here at home.”
While many attendees were excited by the current administration’s pledge to keep jobs in the US and favor trade legislation that would keep American manufacturers competitive, there was also concern about budget cuts and the threat to programs, like NJMEP, that support the industry.
“It’s up to us in the manufacturing industry to help educate our elected officials as to how they can keep our sector strong,” Kennedy said. “Summits like this one help us convey our message to them and it feels good to know our voices have been heard.”