June 24, 2019
By: James Turner, President and CEO, IFN
Manufacturing jobs aren’t disappearing. As we know, they’re simply changing. The manufacturing industry is enjoying growth in revenues and profits by investing in automation and welcoming a new age of industrial production.
There is a key component that makes this growth possible: fiber broadband. Manufacturing may not be declining, but as the digital economy accelerates it can be hard for the manufacturing industry to compete with tech companies. However, when manufacturing companies incubate new ideas and innovations – with internet speeds that put Silicon Valley to shame – they become ideal and sought-after employment opportunities, especially in rural communities.
Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day and taking an estimated 25% of the manufacturing workforce with them. This not only results in a drain on the number of available employees but also a drain of industry knowledge. Combined with the US experiencing historically low levels of employment, it can be hard for manufacturing companies to find enough workers to meet the demand.
The manufacturing sector can help mitigate this issue with technology, however, and not by replacing human workers with robots. As younger, more technologically adept generations enter the workforce, early training with technology in trade schools and work-study programs will help employees and potential employees become even more comfortable with technology in manufacturing applications.
Manufacturing organizations, especially in rural America, have a unique opportunity to partner with local schools, community colleges, technical schools, and other organizations to create a pipeline of talent that is facilitated by high-speed rural broadband. Manufacturers can truly take the lead in managing the talent crisis by contributing to developing manufacturing skills and community partnerships.
Of course, for manufacturers to remain healthy and even thrive in today’s competitive market, it is critical that they invest in technologically advanced manufacturing operations and processes. This investment starts with high-speed fiber broadband and connectivity.
The investment in fiber broadband not only allows companies to take advantage of the latest and greatest technology, but deep fiber networks can help transform struggling communities, allowing for the next generation of investment in infrastructure and rural manufacturing jobs. According to a 2017 Deloitte study, “Extending fiber deeper into communities is a critical economic driver, promoting competition, increasing connectivity for the rural and underserved, and supporting densification for wireless.”
The digital divide severely limits development, growth, and economic development in rural communities. Without fiber broadband, these communities will continue to lag behind in a modern, global economy. Studies show that without reliable internet, both businesses and people migrate into bigger cities to live and work, taking the future of those communities with them. Furthermore, a recent report shows that broadband adoption in rural areas positively impacts income growth, while simultaneously reducing unemployment levels. Conversely, low levels of broadband adoption can lead to a decline in the number of businesses and total employment numbers in rural areas.
By investing in fiber broadband, local manufacturing companies can help communities thrive. The addition of high-speed fiber connectivity not only benefits the economy of businesses in these areas, but also education, agriculture, healthcare, and recreation along with it. In short, when manufacturing companies invest in fiber, it isn’t just an investment in the future of manufacturing – it’s an investment in a connected rural lifestyle many Americans crave.
James Turner is president and CEO of Intelligent Fiber Network (IFN) and serves on the board of managers for INDATEL. IFN provides high-speed fiber-optic backbone capabilities to member/owners as well as to other telecommunications providers and business-direct customers including hospitals, schools and government facilities.