The state must connect on all levels of manufacturing

I always feel a wave of optimism every time a new administration emerges in the state or on the federal level, and Gov. Phil Murphy is no exception to that rule. The fact is that, like many of us, I am not (yet) sure where his leadership will bring us, but I am excited and ready for a change.

I was especially heartened by his preliminary comments regarding workforce development, advanced manufacturing and STEM, as all are “near and dear” to me and my own career path. It also supports my belief that New Jersey has to invest now in these sectors or be left quickly behind.

So, when I read the story about the proposed Innovation Hub in New Brunswick, I was very excited. This type of investment is exactly what we need, as we are lagging further behind other states (i.e., Massachusetts and the Carolinas) in this regard. We can only sit back and wait for so long before we lose our edge, and the time is now for action.

Then, as the initial “glow” wore off, the old concerns began to creep back in, as I have watched many of these programs get “hijacked” by the well-meaning, but better-connected, groups. We certainly need Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and others in this loop, as they represent the best of our higher educational system. We also require firms such as Johnson & Johnson to engage, as their leadership will provide the technical and financial impetus for this program to succeed.

So what (then), is the concern …?

Simply, we cannot omit the need to connect all levels of industry and their trained and educated workforce … or our county colleges and career technical education schools. If we do, then we will continue to help people and companies leave our great state. That cannot be an option we support.

It is essential to understand that the average size of our 11,130 manufacturers is a staff of 34 — and that about 77 percent of them fall under that mark. Unless you realize that this constitutes about 250,000 well-paid and highly skilled individuals. It is easy to overlook the impact. The fact is that, without a healthy supply chain made up of these smaller firms, and the jobs that they support, it is easy for the larger companies to move away. However, when the entire manufacturing/STEM infrastructure remains healthy and intact … growth is imminent.

This is the pathway that Massachusetts followed recently, and it has created a technological rebound that is enviable. But we start with a broader and deeper foundation that has slowed, but remains ready. So, let’s move on the Innovation Hub, but in a universal manner that will include and not exclude all the components we need to succeed.