What manufacturers need from state government to be successful boils down to two things—more skilled workers and less cost increases.
That was the message manufacturers brought to the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus hearing this morning. Led by Senator Bob Gordon and six legislators from both houses, the hearing was an opportunity for the business owners and operators to speak directly to lawmakers about policies that will help them.
Overall, manufacturers think New Jersey is a great place to operate and they want to stay, but they are worried about how they are going to be able to compete if they have to absorb costs like a $15 minimum wage or higher taxes.
Many, like Brian Neuwirth, president of UNEX Manufacturing, think New Jersey has advantages that can give manufacturers a competitive edge, but those advantages are dulled by high costs. For instance, logistics is the main driver of manufacturing success right now, because of what he calls the “Amazon effect,” where a premium is put on fast delivery of products.
That requires businesses to be closer to the consumer. Neuwirth said because New Jersey is located between the No. 1 and No. 6 largest city areas in the country, it has an opportunity to take advantage of this dynamic.
“Our solutions are for distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, logistics and even the end user, to be closer to the consumer,” Neuwirth said. “That could be a real opportunity for New Jersey if we can lower our tax rate and be competitive from a cost point of view.”
The longer-term worry, however, is the ability to find workers who have the skills that manufacturers need.
Bob Staudinger, president and CEO of National Manufacturing in Chatham, said the resources are out there, but manufacturers and education institutions need to work more closely together.
He believes a public-private partnership with universities where manufacturers would provide opportunities for students to get hands-on training at their facilities, providing students with R & D projects, for instance, could benefit both institutions.
“The students get to know the companies. We get to know the students. And maybe we will be able to commercialize what we have together,” he explained.
He also urged lawmakers to support vocational-technical education in the state.
“The vo-tech schools are our jewels,” he said, but they need to expand. Seventeen thousand students wanted to enter vocational-technical education programs in New Jersey last year, but couldn’t because there weren’t enough seats.”
He urged greater cooperation between vo-tech schools and community colleges like the successful program between Morris County School of Technology and Morris County Community College, now in its third year.