Region prepares for more manufacturing growth

October 16th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Oct. 6 is Manufacturing Day, and a fun fact to share in acknowledgement is northeast Indiana plants expect to hire almost 24,000 manufacturing workers during the next decade - more than some communities in the region can claim as inhabitants.

That Northeast Indiana Works projection is based on the industry’s historic regional growth trend, quantified by Economic Modeling Specialists International. The trends indicate the region’s manufacturing employment will grow 5 percent to about 89,160 workers from about 84,570, said Rick Farrant, communications director for Northeast Indiana Works.

In addition to the almost 4,600 new manufacturing jobs regional plants will create, the region will need to fill close to 19,400 job openings expected to occur through attrition as Baby Boomers retire, he said.

With average annual earnings of $65,328, manufacturing compensation ranks first among northeast Indiana’s top 10 employing industries, Farrant said.

“We need to change the conversation at schools and homes about what a good career means, and it doesn’t necessarily mean a four-year college education,” he said. “In many cases you can get into some of these high-skilled positions with a certification or two years under your belt.”

The region has hundreds if not thousands of open positions in manufacturing available right now, and “people who go into careers like manufacturing can earn as much if not significantly more than someone with a four-year degree,” Farrant said.

“That’s not to say that you don’t have to work your way up, just like you do with any occupation, but the opportunity for advancement and wage increase is there if you are ambitious and career minded,” he said.

Setting goals high

Economic developers in the region, including those with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, are not content to repeat the industry’s historic growth trends and are out to surpass them.

“Our pitch for each industry is specific and unique to that industry. But it is always based on the same principles,” John Sampson, the partnership’s president and CEO, said in an email. “Our starting point is always about skilled talent to do the work and compete in a highly competitive national and global marketplace.”

The region’s manufacturing talent has proven itself with the production of oboes and bassoons, designer clothing and accessories, Corvette body parts, high-end power boats, artificial hips and knees, raw copper for today’s most advanced computers, furniture that will last a life-time, and satellite sensors that feed weather forecasting apps around the world.

“So many products are created, designed and made here in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana. It all begins with the knowledge, ability and tenacity to make it and get it to market at a competitive rate,” Sampson said. “All of this is supported by a best-in-the-US business climate. Our state’s governing administrators and elected officials - from mayors to commissioners to legislators and the governor - all appreciate the critical importance of Hoosier manufacturing dominance.

“It is no accident that Indiana is number one in the country for manufacturing employment, and it is no happenstance that northeast Indiana is number one in Indiana for know-how and alignment around the needs of our region’s manufacturing employers.”

Changing times

Much of today’s manufacturing in northeast Indiana is a jolting departure from the industry’s stereotype of yesteryear.

At Micropulse in Columbia City, for example, CEO Brian Emerick says its production takes place in an air-conditioned, white-floored building that’s almost as clean as a hospital.

The internet of things, global logistics and automation incorporating artificial intelligence will drive disruptive change in manufacturing going forward.

Manufacturers in the region are well on their way to making the adjustments technological changes will demand of their industry, learning new processes to remain competitive, Sampson said.

“There will be less demand for manual labor and more demand for tech-savvy individuals who can program, code, design, work in teams and innovate,” he said. “There is no question that manufacturing will be subject to highly competitive change in technology and market demands from end users.

“We will either be victims of that change or beneficiaries. The most relevant question for us is which path will we choose as a region and how we will respond as a community to make sure we are supporting and aligning to the needs of northeast Indiana’s employers.”

The Fort Wayne campus of Ivy Tech Community College scheduled a manufacturing expo for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Keith Busse Technology Building, where it expected up to 30 manufacturers from the region to showcase some of what they are doing and have planned.

“They’re bringing a lot of what they make and interactive displays,” said Kaylene Smith, Ivy Tech’s lead program manager for workforce alignment. “It’s basically to shine a light on what is manufactured in our area, what opportunities there are in manufacturing, and what Ivy Tech can do to get someone the skills they need in manufacturing.”

The vocational college offers technical certifications and degrees in advanced manufacturing, and many of its labs and automotive bays will be open for instructor tours during the event, Smith said.