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posted: 10/17/2019 1:00 AM

Illinois: A hub for American manufacturing

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  • Dennis LaCOmb

    Dennis LaCOmb

 

Manufacturing.

Many who read that word think of a dark and dirty factory with sparks flying on assembly lines. That is what manufacturing used to be. Today, manufacturing is a high-skilled, precision career designing and producing critical components for modern industries such as aerospace and tech. Manufacturing has evolved into an advanced industry.

Modern manufacturing is vital to Illinois's future, they go hand in hand. Just like October and Halloween, Friday nights and high school football, or postseason baseball with no Chicago team participating.

Because of our state's strategic geographic location and our access to transportation infrastructure, Illinois is a hub for American manufacturing. This is why the Chicagoland area contains 5 of the 10 biggest manufacturing zip codes in the country.

If all manufacturing left Illinois, the economic hit, both statewide and locally, would be catastrophic. We would lose over 12,000 businesses, nearly 590,000 jobs, and $104 billion of our state's annual total output. With Illinois's economy already struggling, manufacturing is the single most important industry in the Land of Lincoln.

Our industry is growing as American manufacturing sees a resurgence, and most manufacturers are desperately seeking to fill jobs. Research shows that Illinois will face a shortage of about 300,000 skilled workers in the manufacturing industry over the next decade. These are opportunities with tremendous upward mobility and earning potential.

For instance, a Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) member company hired a veteran who just got out of service in the Marines with no manufacturing skills or background. Yet they saw his potential. They paid for his training to learn the industry, giving him access to a new career without incurring college debt. Today, he is thriving as their Machining Lead, looking ahead to a bright future while providing for his family. Hundreds of our members have stories like this -- one person went from a warehouse worker to head foreman, a forklift driver went on to become the president of a local manufacturing company, and a high school dropout found a lucrative and rewarding career in manufacturing.

This manufacturing job growth leads to increased wages and better opportunities for Illinois residents, stronger communities, and government budgets funded through growth rather than increased taxes and fees.

To sustain this manufacturing resurgence in Illinois, we must encourage the next generation of skilled manufacturers. Earlier this month, we celebrated Manufacturing Day, a nationwide event that showcases modern manufacturing to young people throughout the country. This is a chance for students to see the potential of today's manufacturing.

Not all high school students have the financial means or even desire to follow the traditional college-to-career path. These students, and even those considering the traditional college model, need to know that there are alternate roads to success, one of which can be found through manufacturing. At TMA, we are working with school districts to encourage students to pursue a career by providing them hands on experiences in modern manufacturing. Through our BeNext program, Education Foundation, Precision Machining Competition, and partnerships with local educational and community organizations, we are shedding light on a career pathway that many parents and students don't even know exists.

The future of Illinois manufacturing, and our state's economy, is in our hands. By inspiring the next generation of manufacturers, we can ensure Illinois remains the hub for a thriving American manufacturing industry.

• Dennis LaComb is vice president of Technology & Manufacturing Association, based in Schaumburg