While the days of giant factories and big assembly lines have faded into the past, you might be surprised to learn manufacturing is playing an increasingly important role in the New Jersey economy.

During a special manufacturing summit in Trenton, business and government leaders shared concerns and suggestions about how to improve the business climate for manufacturing companies.

“We need that conversation and that openness between the two groups because neither one understands the other,” said John Kennedy, the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

“In the world today, what we do is we call somebody an ass and then we expect them to sit down and negotiate with us. That’s not a good way to start a relationship.”

He said a lot of people may not realize it but manufacturing is alive and well in New Jersey.

“There’s 11,130 manufacturers still in the state. They employ over 360,000 people who are well paid and well educated," he said.

Kennedy noted there’s a general misconception that manufacturing jobs are mostly low-paying, low-skilled positions, which isn’t true.

“We produce incredible medical devices, amazing stuff, there’s over a thousand companies that provide some type of military support, and 1,100 companies make some sort of food, which is something everyone understands is important.”

One of the speakers at the summit, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, said manufacturing is very important to the Jersey economy but the nature of the industry has changed.

“Right now, the average manufacturer in New Jersey has 34 employees and they’re more versatile. They have to be able to change.”

Sweeney said one positive step taken last year was the creation of the legislative manufacturing caucus to address the needs of the industry, including helping potential employees getting the training they need.

“40,000 jobs a year are going unfilled in New Jersey. Good paying jobs 'cause we in government are not providing the proper roadmap for people to gain employment," he said.

Sweeney said the message being sent to the manufacturing industry is “we’re listening, we hear you.”

Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, agrees that efforts must continue to build skills within the current and future workforce.

She said while traditional education is certainly important, “along the way you can get credentials and life experience that can afford you to develop in demand skills and continue toward those degrees.”

She added the legislative caucus is helping to further “the collaboration between government industry, private entities, nonprofits and academia in order to improve communication and advance job training.”

NJMEP is a private, not–for-profit organization that improves the profitability and competitiveness of the states manufacturing companies.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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