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Editorial: Manufacturing for a strong future

Manufacturing is in a pretty good state in both our states. The one thing almost every local manufacturer needs, however, is workers.

Manufacturing accounts for more than 18 percent of Wisconsin's gross domestic product. That adds up to $56 billion annually, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Industry employed more than 461,000 people two years ago and continues to grow.

In Minnesota, manufacturing is the largest private-sector contributor to the GDP, totaling $49.2 billion. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development puts the annual employment figure at 230,350 — and, yes, growing, too.

Both states could employ more people, if only companies could find skilled labor. Minnesota and Wisconsin are not alone in this dilemma, because nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs are expected to open up by 2025 as baby boomers retire or at least cut back to part-time work. The pressure may be especially intense for Wisconsin, where the state's manufacturing job concentration is approximately 84 percent above the national average, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages reports.

So what can any of us do ... other than fret?

Well, change your attitude about manufacturing for a start. That Industrial Revolution image is archaic.

Technology plays a major role in manufacturing today. For example, machines have automated many commonplace tasks so companies need workers who are proficient in math and bring high-tech skill sets to run the machines.

Industries, for the most part, also pay quality workers exceptionally well. They have to, because good workers will go elsewhere.

The daily "grind" also is different. For example, several local factories are employee-owned facilities, where people are team members rather than staff.

If we change how we think and how we talk about manufacturing, we will elevate people's perception of what it means to work in manufacturing. And then perhaps young people will be more willing to look seriously at careers that carry tremendous job satisfaction and set the stage for quality living. This in turn can make top-notch manufacturing produce for all of us in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the nation.

Yes, it can work — in more ways than one.