Guest Columnist

'Creators Wanted' to boost manufacturing

Mike Ralston

ABI
Mike Ralston ABI

Every four years, Iowa turns into a sea of signs, with candidates proclaiming their names and slogans from billboards, bumper stickers and banners. As we gear up for the 2020 election, manufacturers are working to make sure their message is seen and heard. This month, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) 2019 State of Manufacturing Tour is heading to shop floors, innovation centers and schools around the country — including right here in Iowa — to tell Americans the story of our industry and what is needed to stay strong.

Manufacturers’ message is two simple words: “Creators Wanted.” But it means so much more than that. Today, the American manufacturing economy is vibrant and growing. It’s adding jobs at a rapid pace — 24,000 jobs per month on average in 2018. It’s adopting technology that our grandparents couldn’t have imagined — advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. And it pays workers far more than the average American’s earnings — sometimes nearly double — while offering careers that can span a lifetime.

But within a decade, manufacturers may face a challenge to that success. According to a recent study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute — the education and workforce partner of the NAM — the industry will lack close to 5 million workers by 2028. The industry desperately needs more creators, and it needs them today. That’s why we’re broadcasting this message.

I believe Iowans will be eager to listen. Iowans have supported the manufacturing industry for decades, playing an important role in the fabled “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II. Among many other places, they worked in the Army Ordnance Plant not far from Burlington and in a converted John Deere factory in Ankeny to make essential supplies for the war. The 214,000 Iowans working in the industry today are their heirs.

We’re all grateful for the prosperous democracy the World War II generation preserved for us with their valor and labor. Now, it falls to us to pass on a thriving economy to our children and grandchildren. As the president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, I’m proud to take part in the 2019 State of Manufacturing Tour and help show American leaders and citizens alike what they can do to support the backbone of the American economy.

Here in Iowa, the tour will stop at Sukup in Sheffield, and SwineTech and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. They, too, say: “Creators Wanted.” They show the commitment of Iowa manufacturers to being, and recruiting, the best.

But they need help in fulfilling that commitment. Iowa’s political leaders can strengthen manufacturing by knocking down regulatory barriers and supporting beneficial changes to our tax code. And of course, manufacturers need ordinary Americans to hear their call for builders and innovators and say, “That’s me.”

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So remember, “Creators Wanted.” You might even see manufacturers’ message on a sign or two around here. Heck, we’ll wear it on the backs of our shirts if it will help. We’re asking on behalf of America: help us create a prosperous future for our country.

• Michael Ralston is president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

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