Manufacturing in Georgia is going quite well these days. Roy Bowen, president of the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, talks about why his state has been experiencing so much success, the challenges that lie ahead, and what his organization and state leaders have been doing to ensure that manufacturing thrives in Georgia for many years to come. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Georgia’s strongest manufacturing sector perhaps is their construction industry, but they also have robust outputs in the areas of automobile, steel, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. And yet, the success isn’t just limited to those industries, as Bowen says that his state has invested quite a bit of capital into their manufacturing scene over the years, and “just about every sector that we’ve invested in has had great success on not just the local level, but national as well.”
The success across many industries stems from Georgia’s extremely business-friendly environment the state has nurtured over the years, something that came full circle in 2013 when it was appointed as the state with the best business climate by Site Selection Magazine. This environment has been maintained and grown over the last three years, in particular, due to hundreds of millions of dollars that have been made available exclusively to the manufacturing sector. These investments, which began in 2012 and will continue through this year, have led to the creation of over 12,000 jobs, Bowen says.
The investments are a direct sign of the importance of manufacturing to the state of Georgia. Bowen says what’s interesting about manufacturing in his state is that, although the percentage of Georgia employees in manufacturing dropped from 16 to 11 percent over the last three years, the state’s manufacturing output has remained relatively stable. “I think that is the result of the massive investments I talked about, and drives home the point of our manufacturers’ ability to do more with less.”
Lobbying For Change
Bowen’s organization specializes in legislative reform on behalf of manufacturers in Georgia, and he said that in addition to the strong investment being made by the state, he and his colleagues have successfully worked to encourage tax reform for manufacturers. “Probably the most significant piece of legislation we lobbied for was the repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing,” he says, noting, “Right off he bat, once that becomes fully phased in, will reduce energy costs by six percent”
While that was a big win for Bowen, and manufacturers as a whole in Georgia, he doesn’t expect there to be too much activity on the legislation side for Georgia manufacturing in 2014. “It’s an election year for a majority of our general assembly and state constitution members, so that, in combination with election dates being moved up a couple months from July to May, leads one to think that there won’t be a whole lot of legislative action this year.”
Confronting the Skills Gap
While it’s expected to be a quiet year legislatively, Bowen says that he and his organization will be busy at work tackling a host of challenges, in particular the issue of an impending skills gap between the fast-retiring Baby Boomers and the younger generation. “A phenomenon I’ve been seeing is the re-shoring of production, particularly from the Far East,” Bowens says, adding, “and while this is great, it also compounds the issue of having a skilled, work-ready employee force to be able to handle this business as it comes back to the U.S.”
Bowen says this re-shoring of jobs isn’t limited to one or two specific industries, but is actually widespread across most of them. This means that industries of all types need to be generating the interest of the younger generation about careers in manufacturing, and Bowen and his organization have been working hard to assist in the process.
“We’ve got a challenge, as we experience this explosive growth in manufacturing across Georgia, which is to effectively meet it with a skilled, sustainable workforce,” he says, adding, “I think we have some of the best technical colleges in the country, and it’s just about generating interest and channeling those that are interested through these schools.”
He says that the key with ensuring a ready workforce is getting the attention and interest of individuals at a younger age. “We really need to expose the benefits of a career in manufacturing t students as early as 9th and 10th grade,” he says. One of the most significant factors plaguing the interest level of students in high school is what Bowen says is a “misperception of what modern manufacturing is.” He says that the days of dirty factories and jobs requiring minimal education are long gone, replaced with high-skilled, high paying positions that require a higher degree of learning in order be successful.
Bowen points to two manufacturing companies in Georgia, SouthWire and JCB USA, as examples of how his state and its businesses are actively working to bridge the skills gap. SouthWire, an electrical wire manufacturer, has a program call “12 For Life”, where they send some of their employees into local high school to talk about careers manufacturing. In addition to communicating the benefits of manufacturing, they also offer the opportunity for students to spend a portion of their school day working inside their actual facilities. “These kids are learning the soft skills, having their work directed and assisted by professionals, and are actually making product,” Bowen says, noting, “when they graduate from high school, they are essentially assured a job.”
JCB USA, a construction equipment giant, runs a similar, apprenticeship-style program as well. Targeting students enrolled at technical colleges in Georgia, they allow them to spend part of their day working inside their production facility while earning course credit at the same time.
In addition to these companies taking a hands-on approach, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development launched an initiative in January of 2012 called “Go Build Georgia”. The program, launched through the website, www.gobuildgeorgia.com, is designed to serve as an official source of information for Georgia’s youth and their parents and create excitement about careers in manufacturing. “It’s really about captivating them at a young age and communicating the value of a manufacturing job in a way that is easy to understand.”
While workforce development will remain an ongoing process, Georgia manufacturing continues to steam ahead as 2014 begins. Bowen says that due to continued investment that will continue through the end of the year, he expects another a record year for his state’s manufacturing scene. “We’re the number one state for business, and we expect to stay that way,” he says, concluding, “it’s a never ending journey, but one that we feel we have a good position in and hope to continue to improve upon as we move along.”
About the Georgia Association of Manufacturers
Since its founding in 1900, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers (GAM) has represented the interests of Georgia manufacturers before the Georgia General Assembly, the Georgia Public Service Commission, and other state agencies. GAM helps its member companies address the issues most critical to their profitability while also providing them education and networking support. From its origins in the textile industry and its former identity as the Georgia Textile Manufacturers Association (GTMA), GAM has steadily broadened the scope and diversity of its membership so that today it represents a wide cross-section of manufacturing industries across Georgia. While its mission has remained constant over the years, GAM has continued to expand the number and complexity of issues it addresses.