PHOTO: Children from Fairview High School toured the HORN USA plant in Franklin on October 6, 2017.//Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
At Columbia State Community College in Franklin, Friday the 13th marked the kickoff for a 13-city tour to highlight the economic impact of the state’s manufacturing industry and inform community leaders about the field’s growth.
The presentation was a partnership between the Tennessee Manufacturers Association and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Denise Rice, the director of the Tennessee Manufacturers Association, discussed Williamson County’s dominance in the field and highlighted future trends.
Throughout the state, there are 7,580 manufacturers, employing 410,000 people in the industry.
The Northern Middle Tennessee region, Rice said, is the most dense for manufacturing.
Eighty-eight percent of manufacturers in the state are small businesses, with less than 100 employees.
“What’s important for everybody to remember is that we still make tangible goods, we just do it with fewer employees these days because of automation and efficiency,” said Williamson, Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen.
Davidson County is the driver in the region, with 41,000 employees at 500 manufacturing companies.
In Williamson County, more than 8,000 people are employed in 185 countywide manufacturing companies, which include APCOM, Lasko Products and HORN USA.
In an annual survey through Middle Tennessee University, 72 percent of those surveyed said staffing was their number-one concern.
In the next decade, an estimated 3.5 million jobs in manufacturing will be made available.
But 2 million of those jobs are expected to go unfilled, due to the a jobs-skills mismatch; on average, it takes 70 days to fill a production job in the state.
Rice said less than one percent of results from the statewide eighth grade career test point toward a career in high-demand fields like architecture, engineering and computer technology.
She said educators and local officials can do a better job of exposing students to the benefits of a career in manufacturing.
“Our employees have fallen into manufacturing because they failed at another pursuit,” she said. “We have not given them a clear path on how to pursue a career in manufacturing.”
Largen also pointed to Fairview High School’s mechatronics program, which teaches students advanced manufacturing programs.
“We want to make sure the jobs we’re training students for are going to be jobs that are going to be here in the next ten years,” he said.
Tennessee Reconnect, a recent program backed by Gov. Bill Haslam, will allow adults who do not have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree to go to community or technical college for free, beginning in the fall of 2018.
To continue combating misconceptions, Rice urged the audience to join a local manufacturing association and to be an advocate for the field.
She also said highlighting the revitalized nature of manufacturing, a departure from the perception of windowless factories, was important.
“At some point, we need to open up the doors and say, ‘hey guys, we’re telling you the truth, this is a really cool job,’” she said.