Manufacturing: A valuable driver of wealth in our state

When boomers finished high school in the ‘70s, a common attitude was that while our fathers may have worked in manufacturing, progress meant that the work of our fathers would not be our own. Everyone was supposed to go to college, and many certainly did. Meanwhile, we boomers launched into adulthood carrying those ideas, and didn’t really notice or care when nearly all of the high school technical “shop” classes disappeared, or when apprenticeship programs went wanting for applicants.

We thought we knew that manufacturing was dark, dirty and dangerous, and only if you weren’t very smart would it be your fate to work in factories. What a mistake we made! Our perceptions and attitudes contributed greatly to the skills gap we find in manufacturing today. We failed to load the ranks with skilled workers over the years. Manufacturers nationwide constantly cite their difficulty in finding qualified workers, and are facing a silver tsunami of retirement of their skilled workforce. And rather than dooming prospective workers to hard and dreary work, we probably dissuaded many from the opportunity to develop great careers.

Today, we urgently need to encourage more young people, career changers and people in low-wage jobs to pursue careers in manufacturing. That’s what Manufacturing Day on October 2 is all about: a concerted nationwide effort to correct our misperceptions and tout the economic engine that is manufacturing.

Did you know that the average compensation for manufacturing employees in the state of Washington is over $84,000 a year? And that working in manufacturing is far safer than working in agriculture, construction or transportation?

Modern manufacturing is a wonder to behold! The modern factory is well lit, safe and most often highly technical. Rather than performing only dehumanizing, repetitive and dreary work, manufacturing workers today are engaged in providing value and improvement in their daily work and contributing much more of their brain power than their muscles.

Manufacturing is an extremely valuable driver of wealth in our state. In Washington, 9.3 percent of the workforce is employed in manufacturing and accounts for 14.4 percent of the state’s gross state product. $74.98 billion in manufactured goods were exported from Washington in 2014, 82 percent of the total exports of the state. Manufacturing has a ripple effect on jobs and wealth creation in its supply chain as well. A rule of thumb is that for every one job in manufacturing, three or more are sustained in the supply chain.

In Clark County, more than 13,000 people work in manufacturing – that doesn’t even count those who cross the river to work in manufacturing in Oregon. There are more than 400 registered manufacturing establishments. Just look around you, but stop looking for smokestacks and you will start to see a vibrant and entrepreneurial pulse alive and well in our region.

Join us in marking Manufacturing Day in the state on October 2. Here in Clark County, you can join us for the screening of “American Made” at The Kiggins Theatre tonight (Wednesday, September 30) at 7 p.m.  “American Made” is the documentary that shows the importance of American manufacturing and how it benefits your community. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on the impact of manufacturing on the local economy and workforce.

There are also scheduled events in conjunction with Manufacturing Day at the following companies:

  • SME Tour of Columbia Machine (Registration is required): October 2, invite only
  • American Paper Converting: October 5, 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Norpac Weyerhaeuser: October 5, 3 to 5 p.m.
  • Linear: October 6, 3 to 5 p.m.
  • CID Bioscience: October 7, 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Sigma Design: October 7, 3 to 5 p.m.

For more information, contact Lee Ann Lawrence at SWWDC: 360.567.3170.

Kristin Kautz is the Southwest Washington regional representative for Impact Washington, part of a nationwide network of NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, whose mission is strengthening US manufacturing. For information, visit 

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