The Manufacturing Caucus Recap
New Jersey Legislators and Southern New Jersey Manufacturers Meet
On Friday, October 25, New Jersey legislators and South Jersey manufacturers came together for the Manufacturing Caucus. It was hosted at Rowen College at Burlington County (RCBC) and a common theme was the difficulty of finding new manufacturing workers.
Manufacturing and Business Growth in South Jersey
The room began to fill at 10:00 am. The audience was made up of a mix of industry leaders, small business owners, reporters, and New Jersey legislators. Senator Lindsay Greenstein opened up the day by outlining the agenda. Two panels have been put together which focus on the state of manufacturing in southern New Jersey.
The First Panel Kicks Off
Right before 11:00 am, the first caucus took their spot at the front of the room and begin explaining the challenges they face while doing business in South Jersey. Workforce development was brought up almost immediately. Businesses are struggling to find and attract workers to their facilities and even if they do, retention is dismal. This is a pressure that was felt by every manufacturer in the room that day. Every business had a unique story about their workforce challenges but they all shared a common theme. Finding people to work in their facilities has become increasingly difficult, nearly impossible some said. Worse yet, one manufacturer mentioned even when they do find people they cannot be retained. Manufacturers are cherrypicking employees because the workers are well aware their skills are scarce and can keep hopping jobs. These businesses pleaded with the Caucus to institute more workforce development legislation to jumpstart interest in manufacturing as a career.
Tax incentives and green initiatives were also brought up. These New Jersey manufacturers were asking for specific tax incentives that focus on capital investments to help them purchase critical equipment. One manufacturer mentioned that without state implemented green initiatives, many companies in Europe wouldn’t even consider purchasing their products. It isn’t easy remaining competitive in today’s business climate. Small and medium-sized manufacturers need more tax incentives to purchase expensive equipment. Innovative machinery and systems will help to alleviate some of the workforce deficiencies but not all. Exporting goods to other countries is a massive boost for the manufacturers making the products as well as the New Jersey economy. Without state-supported green initiatives, European companies refuse to do business with New Jersey manufacturers. Addressing these two issues could prove to have a massive impact on local manufacturing companies’ bottom lines.
The final point that was brought up at the first panel discussion was centered around the lack of public transportation in South Jersey. This was a concern the caucus hasn’t heard before. Specifically a South Jersey issue, a manufacturer explained that they can’t operate a second or third shift effectively because public transportation in the area shuts down at 5:00 pm. The legislators in the room took a pause and spoke amongst themselves before addressing the audience and saying how this was a potential workforce factor they haven’t considered in the past.
The Second and Last Panel of the Day
The second panel took their spot in front of the legislators after a break for lunch. This was much smaller, made up of one manufacturer and NJMEP’s CEO John W. Kennedy. The manufacturer began by referring back to the workforce concerns the first panel presented. He said, “Manufacturing facilities should be made out of glass so people can see inside”. It’s an industry filled with high-tech equipment and systems. Kids need to see what manufacturers make. They need to see examples. Legislators agreed and brought back up funding that has yet to be released which has been put aside to create more workforce development programs throughout the state, in partnership with County Colleges in the area.
Following up from his first set of comments, the manufacturer went on to explain that even if programs do exist that are intended to help manufacturing companies remain competitive, red tape will stop them from being utilized. Hundreds of pages of paperwork will immediately turn any manufacturer off from participating in programs designed to help their business.
The Manufacturing Caucus began to wind down and Senator Greenstein offered some final remarks. She promised that the caucus will continue working vigorously to make New Jersey a more attractive and supportive place for manufacturers to do business. After reviewing the topics that were discussed, the points the manufacturers presented, and the impact the caucus has had up until this point, she asked if anyone in the audience wanted to say a few final words.
Multiple manufacturers raised their hand and one by one approached the legislators. Some were business owners, some were there as representatives for their company and each thanked the caucus for taking the time to listen to the needs of South Jersey manufacturers. All wanted to continue doing business in New Jersey. However, they reiterated many of the concerns the two panels expressed. More notes were taken by the legislators and after the final manufacturer was finished speaking, the caucus was adjourned.
RCBC hosted the first South Jersey manufacturing caucus and it was clear more of them are needed to ensure these businesses have a voice on the public stage. NJMEP will continue doing its part to ensure manufacturers are represented and legislators continue supporting this essential industry in the state of New Jersey.