October is Manufacturing Month in the United States and there is no better time to celebrate innovative American manufacturers who have led our state, and nation, forward over the past 18 months when our world experienced the worst economic and health crisis in generations.
Throughout our nation's history, the American manufacturing sector has answered our nation's call during every major challenge. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called our sector the "Arsenal of Democracy" during World War II and manufacturers have been performing the same, wartime-like effort to help restore our nation from the pandemic and lead our economic recovery.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's the need for a strong and robust American manufacturing sector and supply chain.
Manufacturing's collective efforts since the start of the pandemic have been nothing less than amazing. Using innovation and ingenuity, manufacturers created the fastest vaccine in history while complying with all required oversight. Our sector produced safe and nutritious food and other products for consumers while creating personal protective equipment for our health care providers and first responders.
Even more impressive were those companies, many located in our collective backyard, that retooled their factories literally overnight to meet the demands of the crisis.
J.C. Schultz/The Flagsource, located in Batavia, is a proud manufacturer of American flags and banners who revamped their facility to produce masks and gowns.
In Plainfield, one of the world's largest producers of spirits and wine, Diageo, started making hand sanitizer and partnered with other Illinois companies to bottle it and provide it at no cost.
The team at Pioneer Services in Addison stepped to the plate when parts for ventilators and other medical devices were in short supply.
And in Lake County, global biopharmaceutical company AbbVie learned how to make Viral Transport Medium (VTM) in the early days of the outbreak so that we could test for the virus.
We didn't have a playbook for this unexpected challenge that tested our resolve. It required good old-fashioned American ingenuity and exceptional human effort from every woman and man working in the manufacturing sector to rise to the challenge that continues to exist today.
Today, Illinois manufacturers employ 551,700 people on factory floors across Illinois in good, high-paying jobs that average more than $80,000 per year in wages and benefits. More than 92 percent of manufacturing employees have access to employer-funded health care.
While we now exceed manufacturing employment numbers from one year ago, and our manufacturing output is now higher than before the pandemic hit, manufacturers face serious issues with supply chains and workforce shortages.
Nationally, there are 889,000 open manufacturing jobs, including tens of thousands in Illinois, but manufacturers struggle to find workers. There is no easy solution or a magic bullet to remedy the problem -- it's going to take a collective effort that is a goal of Manufacturing Month where we showcase great career opportunities in manufacturing.
We need to work with parents, teachers, counselors and students to end the outdated mindset that manufacturing is "dark, dirty and dangerous" because it's actually diverse, sustainable and high-tech. Manufacturers need to reach out to dislocated workers, students, women, ex-offenders, equity communities and veterans to share the promise of American manufacturing.
Manufacturers are an economic engine that is reshaping the world around us. New technologies and processes have brought us energy independence, new lifesaving medicines and more efficient automobiles to name a few. Every day, manufacturers across Illinois are transforming their operations to achieve greater efficiency, productivity and competitiveness while working to create a better tomorrow.
We need to continue re-imagining the future -- now is our chance. We have an opportunity to transform the perceptions of the industry and inspire a new generation who will lead us to new heights. It's time to celebrate manufacturing and honor the men and women to make things in Illinois.
• Mark Denzler is President & CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.