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Opinion: Writing the future of manufacturing in the Ozarks

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Manufacturing is critically important to our region.

The average wage for a manufacturing job here is 17 percent above the $37,271 average wage in the 10-county region for all jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2016, the Springfield area had 675 operating manufacturers and 22,011 people employed in manufacturing. BLS data show the sector has grown about 4 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Build on strengths
At the Springfield Business Development Corp.’s recent Manufacturing Outlook, our panel of top-level manufacturing managers was asked what the community should be doing to help strengthen their operations, to help grow manufacturing and to support our region’s manufacturers.

The response was definitive: Invest in Springfield.

The panelists were confident they have the potential to grow – but they need people to be attracted to our area, to want to live here. It will take a growing workforce to meet expansion demands. As one panelist said, investments like Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, trails and parks, and world-class golf courses all serve to make the region a more inviting place to live and help with talent recruitment. Planned investments that build on our existing assets also strengthen our identity and make us more competitive in attracting talent and business. If we want to grow our manufacturing sector, it will take commitment to build a unified vision aligned around our strengths.

Providing manufacturers and other employers with real tools to help them develop, retain and attract talent has become an increasingly intense focus. Attracting talent is more than just finding the right person with the right skills and selling them on the job. They must want to live or stay here. If prospective employees have children, they also must be convinced this is an amazing place for families to live, work, play and learn.

Marketing efforts
The SBDC’s Talent Attraction Initiative at LiveInSpringfieldMO.com serves as a portal to help employers tell the story of why Springfield is a desirable place to live. There are beautifully produced video resources. Some focus on lifestyle, while others are designed to attract high-demand professional skills important to manufacturers, including engineering and information technology.

These resources are only part of the picture. Our team also has developed collateral materials to support employers at job fairs – we have a talent attraction booth that stands alongside employers that are exhibiting and need help convincing prospects that living in Springfield is a great choice. We’ve even worked with employers to have those materials translated into another language to support their recruitment needs.

Education boost
There’s also another game-changer on the horizon for the future of our regional manufacturing industry: Ozarks Technical Community College’s proposed Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Technology.

If Proposition B passes in April, OTC would create this center to offer in-demand training in areas such as mechatronics, precision manufacturing, stainless steel production and 3-D printing. It also could provide an environment for manufacturers to evaluate new processes.

Adaptable programs could meet existing employer needs while helping to attract new companies to the region. Our capacity to develop and train our existing workforce, as well as to create and retain quality jobs in the region, would be given an incredible boost by such a facility.

We have some incredible opportunities to be more competitive in attracting and growing talent and quality jobs here, to ensure there’s much more made in the Ozarks.

Matt Morrow is president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at matt@springfieldchamber.com.

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