A turning tide for jobs?

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If you work in manufacturing, you know that not losing jobs can count as good news these days.

More than 1.2 million Midwestern manufacturing jobs have dried up since 2000, according to Workforce Development figures. Iowa communities have not been immune.

So you can imagine Rockwell Collins workers’ excitement when Local 1634 was able to work out a deal with the company to bring production lines making circuit cards for commercial in-flight entertainment to the company’s Coralville facility.

Before this spring, that work was being done in Mexicali, Mexico. Now, those jobs are back in Coralville. Sixteen jobs, to be exact, paying as much as $30 an hour with benefits, that would likely have been eliminated if it weren’t for the move back home, Electrical Workers Local 1634 Business Manager Dan Barr told me on Tuesday.

In a statement, Rockwell seemed to warn against getting too excited about the move, which it said would “consolidate operations and better utilize our Coralville facility.” The Mexicali plant will continue to be among the company’s “key manufacturing locations” worldwide, the company’s statement read.

But union leaders hope this handful of jobs saved is just the beginning. Long-term, they want to see more and more advanced manufacturing work coming home. It’s not such a wild idea.

Over the past few years, most manufacturers have implemented process automation as they redesign and streamline production lines, according to the Manufacturing Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers.

These aren’t the line jobs like Laverne and Shirley worked over in Schotz Brewery’s bottle-cap division. They’re jobs running highly technical manufacturing equipment, and they’re increasingly becoming part of the way we make the things we sell.

Rockwell’s not the only company that’s finding it actually makes more business sense to keep those highly skilled jobs in the United States — as long as they can find workers with the necessary skills.

“I think that’s exactly why they came here,” Barr told me. “Our work force is way better equipped to handle this kind of technical assembly.” And for the 500 IBEW members at Rockwell’s Coralville facility, it’s really big news.

“Turn on any TV show and you hear about work going the other way,” he told me. “You almost never hear it going this way.”

For now, at least. But maybe not for long.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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