Manufacturing Day: Kennedy wants sector to ‘take a bow’ for its success in a year of tumult

John Kennedy, the head of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, has been around business — and manufacturers — long enough to know one thing about the impact of the country’s tariff battle:

The sector will survive.

“It’s going to hit home — and it already has hit him — just because certain metals are harder to get,” he said. “The prices have increased, even for items that are produced in the United States. And for items that are no longer produced in the United States, it’s hard to get an exemption.

“But, at the end of the day, it is what it is. Businesses, especially manufacturers, are pretty resilient when it comes to this type of stuff. They’re not happy. It’s an uphill battle. But they’re battling.”

It’s not enough to take away from the sector, which is expanding in the state. It’s one Kennedy is eager to celebrate at the annual New Jersey Manufactures Day, which the NJMEP will put on and sponsor on Oct. 4 in Somerset.

“To me, it’s a celebration of the industry,” Kennedy said.

And while that means a select few will be honored with Made in New Jersey awards, Kennedy wants the event to be a day where all companies — and their supporters — can come together.

“I certainly want to see more manufacturers in the room, but I also want to see more STEM companies and more logistics companies,” he said. “And, certainly, the bankers, accountants and law firms that support the industry are welcomed, too.

“You want the industry to be able to take a bow for all that it has accomplished.”

Kennedy is hoping the attendance will top last year’s mark of approximately 700. And he hopes that number includes more of one specific group: Legislators.

Kennedy loves to point out that there are manufacturing companies in every district in the state, not just the biggest cities. And he applauded the work of the Manufacturing Caucus, now co-chaired by State Sens. Linda Greenstein and Steve Oroho.

“The manufacturing caucus is really starting to get rolling,” he said. “They’ve had time to get organized and going and are taking all the right steps. They’ve gotten a lot of input and they’re working on the packet of bills that may very well help business, not just manufacturing, but business. So, that’s a plus.

“We’ve also been working with the EDA on hopefully creating some type of manufacturing oversight board to help create a better atmosphere for business. I think those are pluses. Obviously, taxes aren’t a plus. The raise in minimum wage is not a plus. But there’s been enough complaining about what’s wrong, let’s talk about what’s right.”

There’s plenty on that side of the ledger, too, Kennedy said.

“The feedback from most of the companies we deal with has been positive overall,” he said. “Business seems to be up around the country and New Jersey is not an exception. The big issue that still remains is the workforce development and that’s where I think the state has done a very good job with their apprenticeship programs such as GAINS and PACE.

“NJMEP has been lucky enough to receive money for both and we’re already putting it to good use. We’re on our fourth cohort of apprenticeships right now, so there are some positives.”

The tariff tussle? That’s not so positive.

Kennedy, however, said it’s just part of the battle manufacturers have faced for decades, especially in New Jersey.

“Obviously, New Jersey still struggles with having a poor culture for business,” he said. “Some people blame the governor, but let’s be realistic, it’s not his doing.

“We’ve been in this rut for 30 years, through Democrats and Republicans. It’s certainly something that we want to change. And I think there’s some positive things going on.”