Asaro-Angelo says manufacturing in N.J. is on the rise — and he has stats to prove it

Robert Asaro-Angelo. (File photo)

Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, came to the second session of its third annual State of the State on manufacturing last Friday with good news.

“For five consecutive years now, New Jersey has added manufacturing jobs, turning around a trend that had previously lasted decades,” he said to the crowd at the County College of Morris in Randolph.

The event, sponsored by the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, brought together more than 600 manufacturing and STEM firms to connect with over 100 legislators, government departments and educators.

Asaro-Angelo said Gov. Phil Murphy is determined to help the sector grow even more.

In addition to awarding NJMEP $596,000 this year to help develop an industrywide apprenticeship model and creating a new Office of Apprenticeship, Asaro-Angelo praised the Murphy administration for reinstating the New Jersey Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education, or NJPLACE, program, which establishes partnerships with educational institutions to award college credit to students who participate in registered apprenticeship programs while enrolled.

“New Jersey has registered 162 new apprenticeship programs since this administration walked in the door,” he said. “Our goal is to drive economic development in New Jersey through demand-driven job and educational programs that lead apprentices to learn specialized skills, earn industry-valued credentials and start good-paying careers.

“And, perhaps more importantly, provide all of you a talent ecosystem and pipeline so this state continues to see year-over-year growth in manufacturing for the next five years and beyond.”

John Kennedy, the CEO of the Cedar Knolls group responsible for assisting New Jersey manufacturing companies in becoming more competitive and profitable, partnered with the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey to host the program.

Kennedy, a veteran of the sector, said he sees good things ahead.

“The consensus?” he asked, and then answered. “The industry is far from dead and, if we want to regain our place in innovation, we need to invest more in it.”

Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, agreed. He said advanced manufacturing is one of eight industries the NJEDA is focusing on to retain or improve New Jersey’s competitive advantage in the country.

“We know we need to be stronger and we think that we can do it,” he said.

Clean energy, for example, is a new industry Sullivan said he expects to take root in the state over the next 30 years.

“It represents enormous opportunity for the manufacturing sector,” he said.

Kevin DeSmedt, senior policy adviser for the NJEDA, said that, despite an aging workforce, everchanging skills, an increased need for access to technology and modernization and the challenge of getting young people and their parents engaged with and exposed to manufacturing, stakeholders from the government, educational institutions and the business community have come together like never before to address these issues in manufacturing.

“It has never happened before that the state has said, ‘This is our vision and plan for the industry and here is a list of all the people we need to be involved in this process,’” he said. “We want you to actively reach out because we need to hear from you, your ideas and perspectives.”

Anthony Russo, president of CIANJ, said his group is behind the sector.

“CIANJ strongly believes that when New Jersey companies ‘make something,’ no matter what that is, wealth is generated and investment comes back to New Jersey, improving the quality of lives of all citizens,” he said.

“Manufacturing is the backbone of our economy and should be protected and enhanced through sound policies and legislative vigilance. CIANJ looks forward to working with all stakeholders in growing our economy and strengthening our workforce.”

Having recently been named chairman of the New Jersey State Employment and Training Commission Apprenticeship Committee, Kennedy himself will be helping move the apprenticeship process forward in all sectors of New Jersey by better facilitating collaboration between stakeholders in education and workforce development, including using the Pro-Action Education Network model to scale statewide apprenticeships via NJMEP’s contacts, resources and research.

Currently, New Jersey manufacturing produces $156 billion in annual output, with more than 11,000 manufacturing, STEM and transportation, logistics and distribution companies employing more than 1 million in the state.