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An Economy Built to Last

Stephen Gray discusses manufacturing’s key role in President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address.

President Obama at 2012 State of the Union

Manufacturing in the 2012 State of the Union Address

Like many Americans last night, I tuned in to watch President Obama give his State of the Union address. I’ve always found these addresses to be a great place find out where our country is putting its effort. It was clear to me last night that America is putting its effort behind manufacturing.  

Speaking on the difficulty of finding skilled workers to operate the nation’s high-tech manufacturing industry, President Obama mentioned one of Gray’s largest and most recent manufacturing jobs, Siemens Gas Turbine in Charlotte, NC. The President focused on how Siemens’ partnership with the local Central Piedmont Community College enabled them to build a team capable of operating their advanced manufacturing equipment. 

Workforce development programs such as these have been utilized on other Gray jobs such as Austal in Mobile, Ala. and Caterpillar in Winston-Salem, NC, but we need to make sure these programs are fully supported at every level across the nation. With about 5% of all manufacturing jobs remaining unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates, translating into over 600,000 jobs, these initiatives are just getting started. It’s going to require an aggressive long-term effort across the board to make workforce development programs a true asset in creating “an economy built to last”. 

These initiatives directly contribute to another one of the President’s main points; American productivity. “Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win.” According to David Wessel, economics editor of The Wall Street Journal, “factories get 40 percent more output out of every hour of work today, compared to what they got 10 years ago”.

 While this progress is extremely attractive to manufacturers, it isn’t big enough to grow the American manufacturing industry on its own. Opening a new manufacturing operation is a long and complicated process. Areas that must be considered for manufacturers to open and expand in the US are locations with a ready infrastructure, competitive tax incentives, energy rates and policies. These are all complimentary to a trained and competent workforce. A wide effort to advance the attractiveness of our country as a destination for manufacturing will certainly help to develop “an economy built to last”.

Another interesting point from the address was the focus on clean energy. The President stated that “…we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” I know this to be true from Gray’s project history. A recent example is the Siemens Energy plant in Hutchinson, Kansas. This wind energy project created 400 jobs and manufactures 650 wind turbine nacelles each year. Also, this project is a LEED® Gold Certified facility, which further speaks to the President’s emphasis on the relationship between the environment and the economy. As the 3rd ranked Top Green Contractor in Manufacturing with multiple ongoing projects that have achieved or are seeing certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, we have seen that being environmentally aware can also be economically rewarding.

I certainly hope that the rest of the country was as glad as I was to hear such passion for manufacturing. As an industry that promotes workforce development, fosters innovation, and provides a way to responsibly produce the products that will contribute to the success and wellbeing of our country, I certainly think manufacturing is up to the task of building “an economy that lasts.”


    January 25, 2012

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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