Kennedy: Manufacturing is (hidden) gem of N.J. economy

Manufacturing is not dying, it’s evolving.

So said John Kennedy, the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, at a recent Financial Executives International meeting.

“Manufacturing in New Jersey is very hidden,” he said. “People (don’t realize) there are 11,130 manufacturing companies (here),” Kennedy said to the room of around 40 senior financial executives.

“Do you realize there are 378,000 people working for those companies? Do you realize the average income is higher than any other industry, including finance, at $90,000 per person?”

Kennedy said the most relevant issue facing the manufacturing industry is a skills gap that leads to staffing issues.

That may be partially due to the fact few people know how big manufacturing is, he said.

Kennedy said people also aren’t privy to the existence of the over 11,000 manufacturers in the state because they don’t know where they are.

People drive by them without knowing what they are, which, he said, means the facilities are clean and organized — and don’t perpetuate the stereotype of a manufacturing facility.

Kennedy said they are run by highly skilled technicians, who are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

“That’s the No. 1 problem in the state for manufacturing companies,” he said. “Can’t find people. People don’t go into the industry anymore. We figure there’s at least 33,000 open jobs we can’t fill.”

According to Kennedy, after adding up the numbers, manufacturing’s economic impact in the state is about 1.1 million jobs. And every manufacturing job, Kennedy said, drives four other jobs no matter the industry.

Kennedy went on to explain the way technologies such as 3D printing are contributing to the evolution of manufacturing. 3D printing can allow the creation of products, particularly prototypes for auto and aviation, at a drastically lower cost.

Kennedy credits the stigma surrounding the trades and vo-tech schools as the reason young people don’t look at manufacturing as a viable career option. When young people begin to be exposed to a more diverse range of industries, Kennedy said, the negative narrative surrounding trades begins to be addressed.

“We produce about 40,000 engineers a year in the U.S. China and India each produce about 400,000,” he said. “We won’t be leaders in technology if we don’t start producing.”

Founded in 1931 and headquartered in Morristown, FEI is a network of over 10,000 business financial professionals with over 65 chapters across the country. The organization holds webinars, conferences, leadership/professional development events and dinner meetings.

NJMEP is a nonprofit based in Cedar Knolls that works with NJ’s small and midsize businesses to help them improve their bottom line. It creates and operates programs and initiatives such as Lean Manufacturing and the Made in New Jersey program that attempt to improve and showcase manufacturers’ products.