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Roundtable: How Legislative Caucuses Can Power the Manufacturing Sector

A conversation with three lawmakers whose states have formed legislative caucuses to develop the workforce, ease regulatory burdens, encourage innovation and promote the value of manufacturing.

By Leo Garcia  |  June 27, 2023
mike schlossberg pennsylvania
jeff roy Pennsylvania
linda greenstein new jersey

NCSL asked three state legislators, each of whom chairs or co-chairs a legislative manufacturing caucus, about their work to develop their states’ workforces, ease regulatory burdens, encourage innovation and educate their colleagues on the value of manufacturing.

The conversation included Massachusetts Rep. Jeff Roy, New Jersey Sen. Linda Greenstein and Pennsylvania Rep. Michael Schlossberg. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Read more: Scaling Up: State Lawmakers Form Caucuses to Support Manufacturing.

Why is manufacturing important to you and your state?

Rep. Jeff Roy: Massachusetts is home to world-class makers of everything from machinery to biopharmaceuticals to jet engines. Manufacturing output here is at its highest level in history and accounts for about 11% of the state’s economy. It is the sixth-largest employment sector here and $26 billion in manufactured goods are exported from the commonwealth each year. Roughly 250,000 employees work in the manufacturing sector in Massachusetts, comprising nearly 8% of the total workforce. If we look at our nation’s history, times of big growth have always been fueled by manufacturing revolutions. Look at the steam engine in the middle of the 19th century, the mass-production model in the beginning of the 20th century, and the first automation wave in the 1970s. Those resulted in tremendous growth. Fifty years later, we are on the verge of another huge change and, once again, manufacturing is leading the way.

Sen. Linda Greenstein: Manufacturing is a huge part of New Jersey’s economy—chemical, food and beverage, medical devices, pharmaceuticals and more. My late husband, Michael, was a mechanical engineer. He introduced me to the concept of manufacturing in New Jersey, and with the partnership of our former Senate president, Steve Sweeney, we were able to form a caucus to support the industry.

Rep. Michael Schlossberg: It’s the second-greatest job creator and tangentially related to every field, including logistics and warehousing—something that is hugely important in my region. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges manufacturers in your state face?

Schlossberg: Talent, recruitment and retention. Talent, recruitment and retention. Also, talent, recruitment and retention. 

Roy: During the next decade, baby boomer retirements and economic expansion will lead to nearly 3.5 million job openings in manufacturing. Manufacturers will struggle to find highly specialized scientists and design engineers. Manufacturers are faced with overcoming a negative image of the industry among young people. While most Americans consider manufacturing one of the most important domestic industries for maintaining a strong national economy, they rank it low as a career choice for themselves. And 80% of manufacturing executives report they are willing to pay more than market rates in areas reeling from a talent shortage. Executives report it takes an average of 94 days to recruit employees in the engineering/research/scientific fields and an average of 70 days to recruit skilled production workers. Facing these time frames for recruiting, it is no surprise manufacturers report the most significant business impact of the talent shortage is their ability to meet customer demand.

Greenstein: The challenges New Jersey manufacturers face are probably quite similar to those faced by industry across the nation: supply chain shortages and disruptions during COVID, finding a qualified workforce that stays with the industry, and scaling up to new technologies like solar and wind power. In New Jersey, we raised our minimum wage to $15 an hour, so New Jersey manufacturers are competing for employees. We also have a coastline that’s being developed for wind energy, and we’re trying to make sure that New Jersey manufacturers are first choice when it comes to its development.

How do you hope to solve or alleviate these challenges?

Greenstein: I plan to continue to work with my legislative colleagues, Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s administration and our industry partners at the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, community colleges, unions, etc., to find solutions that work here in New Jersey. Some of these factors can be addressed or mitigated by state-level action—legislation, regulatory action—but many need regional or federal partnerships.

Schlossberg: Develop appropriate economic incentives and fund appropriate and adequately connected training programs. 

Roy: The Massachusetts Manufacturing Caucus was formed in 2014 and consists of 65 members of the House and Senate. We came together to address problems faced by the commonwealth’s manufacturing industry in filling technically demanding jobs with people who have the right skills. As lawmakers, we focus on training for manufacturing employees, encouraging innovation by helping startups access resources and expanding apprenticeship opportunities, among other things. We set policies and allocate budget dollars to bolster the economy, and again, build upon the renaissance of manufacturing here. We passed legislation to form an Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative made up of industry leaders, innovators and government officials. Our mission is to make Massachusetts the most complete, connected and fastest ecosystem for applying advanced technology to commercialize products from innovation through production.

What positive results has your manufacturing caucus achieved?

Roy: We have created a great ecosystem for manufacturing, and we are committed to strengthening it. We have fostered collaboration between manufacturers, community colleges, technical high schools and regional workforce boards to create regionally specific talent pipelines. We aligned education programs, the state workforce system and economic development to meet employers’ needs for workers in each region of the state. We have hosted and participated in manufacturing roundtables across the state. We have successfully advocated for manufacturing education in our vocational schools, colleges and universities. As a direct result, local students, continuing education students and many others are benefiting from this education and getting manufacturing jobs right here in Massachusetts. And each fall we celebrate the success of manufacturing by honoring companies from across the commonwealth at our annual manufacturing awards ceremony.

Greenstein: Over the last few years, we’ve passed legislation that expands career and technical education and further develops apprenticeship programs, better connects our community colleges with employers, streamlines the production of personal protective equipment in-state, and secures funding for NJMEP. Our fiscal year 23 and FY 24 budgets also include historic investments in manufacturing, including a new program called the New Jersey Manufacturing Voucher Program to help manufacturers purchase certain new equipment for their facilities. Currently, we’re working to pass the Manufacturing in Higher Education Act to better prepare students with the skills they need to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing, a package to better pair small businesses with government assistance programs, a bill to help grow our craft brewers, and a bill to better market the state’s innovation economy, among many others.

Schlossberg: We’ve done a lot of tours and influenced some budget line items. 

How closely does your caucus work with your local Manufacturing Extension Partnership center?

Schlossberg: Very. They manage the meet-and-greets and also make policy recommendations. They’ve been a key component. We’d have almost no activity without them. 

Roy: MassMEP is a key partner in the effort to meet the skills gap in Massachusetts. MassMEP engages in key industry/technology events, attends and gathers insight from industry leaders, listens to manufacturing clients to help provide the knowledge leads to develop programs, products and partners to meet the needs of the manufacturing sector and foster economic development. Additionally, MassMEP was a critical member of the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team, which assisted in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. MERT was a coordinated response between academia, industry and government and provided a way for manufacturers to request funding from the commonwealth to support the expansion of their production capabilities to make PPE. MassMEP provided logistical, operational and manufacturing expertise to make this program a great success. And the commonwealth provides annual funding to enable MassMEP to obtain matching funds from the federal government.

Greenstein: Very closely. We plan all events and legislative activity in partnership with NJMEP.

Leo Garcia is a policy associate in NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program.

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