August 8, 2012
As part of this conference, Mayor Nutter convened a panel to discuss the current state of urban manufacturing and issues that face this important sector as the nation continues to identify indicators of economic recovery and growth. While the economic turmoil of the last four years has resulted in significant job loss, the United States remains the world’s leading manufacturer and this sector still employs 11 million workers. The panel featured commentary from experts with agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institute for Standards & Technology, as well as several local manufacturers who shared their direct knowledge and experience.
The discussion centered on two main topics: federal investment in research and workforce development/job readiness. Presently, the United States government funds approximately 70% of all investments in advanced manufacturing R&D because the technologies, systems and materials that are in development stage are often years away from commercialization and many companies would otherwise have difficulty outlaying the resources without immediate returns. While the difficult economic climate has forced the United States to scale back its investments in R&D over the last several years, countries such as China have substantially increased their investment and production. This poses a serious concern for the future of domestic manufacturing if the technologies and materials of tomorrow are not developed and patented here in the United States.
While most economic indicators show substantial job loss, it may surprise some to know that there are thousands of vacant positions across the country in manufacturing that remain unfilled because companies cannot find skilled workers. A common problem reported by companies is the large and growing skills gap and the discrepancy between those seeking work and the skills companies require for employment. Advanced manufacturing isn’t presently a job category that high school students are getting exposure to and as a result, there isn’t a pipeline of students coming from the public school systems prepared for entry into this sector. Subsequently, firms are either spending their own time and funds to train new workers or relocating manufacturing operations elsewhere to accommodate a workforce. Either way, the need to reform education, encourage skilled trade, and emphasize study in math and science that are incredibly vital to the survival of American manufacturing.
Overall, the panel was optimistic that while significant challenges still lay ahead for both the public and private sectors, manufacturing has the ability to play a very large role in America’s economic recovery, especially in large cities such as Philadelphia.
The City of Philadelphia and PIDC offer a variety of programs and services for manufacturers that can assist with growth and expansion. PIDC offers low-cost, subordinate financing for building acquisition or renovation, new construction, or the purchase of industrial machinery and equipment. PIDC also sells industrial land for industrial companies interested in new construction opportunities. Additionally, the City of Philadelphia through Philadelphia Works, Inc. is offers assistance to companies with workforce development, training, and recruitment needs.