Thursday, December 12, 2013
BIDDEFORD - There is a lot of talk about the decline of manufacturing in this country, but as is often the case, the devil is in the details.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Tyson is CEO of Thermoformed Plastics of New England in Biddeford.
Yes, the number of manufacturing jobs in this country and in Maine has declined. However, what we make and its value has not. In fact, in 2009 the United States was the world's leader in manufacturing output ($2.33 trillion) -- more than China (No. 2) and twice Japan's (No. 3). In fact, our output was almost as large as the combined output of the seven next largest economies ($2.44 trillion).
I pay attention to the health of manufacturing because I know how important it is to our national and state economy. Economies that don't have strong manufacturing sectors are weaker and more dependent on discretionary spending.
It was because of this belief that, 16 years ago, I started a small manufacturing business in an old, dilapidated mill building in downtown Biddeford. A few years ago we moved out of the mill and bought our own building.
Over the past couple of years our sales have grown 30 percent. So to those who say manufacturing is dying, I say, take a look around.
In the beginning we used 30-year-old machines to mold our parts. They were slow and difficult to operate, and every day our crew would go home dirty, tired and frustrated. The machines always got the better of them.
Today they operate state-of-the-art machines that are controlled by computers. Our factory is more like an office than the old mill buildings of the past.
The changes we made are very similar to the changes many manufacturers in Maine have been making. Manufacturing today doesn't employ as many as it did before but we continue to produce more product.
That is because today's manufacturing employees are more productive. In fact, productivity increased 66 percent from 2001-2009. And because they are more productive, they earn more. Maine's manufacturing workers earn on average $1,000 per month more than Maine workers in all sectors.
One of the biggest challenges we have faced, and continue to face as a company is finding skilled workers. We are the only company in Maine that does what we do. Consequently, we couldn't find our employees at a competitor.
Instead, we focused on finding people who are mechanical, multidimensional and like to work with their hands, and then we train them. It has not been easy, but today I can honestly say we have the best group of employees ever.
I worry about the future work force, however.
The Manufacturers Association of Maine is the bridge between the needs of companies like mine and the trade schools and colleges that will train our future engineers and skilled labor force.
We need to encourage kids to look at learning a trade whether it be on the job or at institutions of higher learning. As I have said countless times, "we can't be a nation of lawyers, accountants or greeters at Walmart."
As a society we need people who can make things. That is why I am proud to be part of the "Make it in America -- Make it in Maine" revolution that is taking place now.
Our company makes packaging and components for almost every industry sector in this country. We had a front row seat watching our nation climb out of this recession as each industry began its own recovery and began to order parts.
Manufacturing has led our country out of this recession, once again demonstrating how important manufacturing is to our economy and our place in the world.
- Special to the Press Herald