Like many states, North Carolina's manufacturing sector took a broadside blow during the recession. But former assistant state treasurer Tom Campbell emphasizes that manufacturing in the Tar Heel State is alive and well today.
It just looks a lot different than it did 20 or 30 years ago.
Today's manufacturers "require less space, are less labor-intensive, [and] employ more technology, automation, newer machineries and smarter logistics," Campbell writes in a recent blog post for "NC Spin,"
a statewide TV and radio talk show that he created.
Campbell notes that North Carolina lost nearly 31 percent of its manufacturing jobs between 1992 and 2010. However, the number of manufacturing sites in the state increased by 34 percent during the same time period.
The new face of North Carolina manufacturing was on display at the recent Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh, Campbell says. He asserts that the theme of the 28th annual forum — "@ManufacturingWorks" — speaks volumes about the shift taking place.
"We heard success stories from entrepreneurs like Gart Davis, co-founder of Spoonflower, a Durham on-demand textile manufacturer who uses computers and professional printers to manufacture small-quantity custom textiles," Campbell writes.
"Employing the Internet, they market across the world in English, letting Google translate their web-site content into the language of the customer while Pay Pal calculates the appropriate pricing, based on the customer's currency, and pays Spoonflower in dollars. Davis bragged that they have spent next to nothing on marketing, have few employees and are thriving."
Despite such success stories, Campbell says there's more work to be done, pointing to the state's 9.2 percent unemployment rate.
The skills gap in the state should be a top public-policy priority, he says.
"Apprenticeship programs need to be started, using a partnership of companies, high schools and community colleges who can train and retrain skilled workers like welders, printers, technicians and others — jobs paying $60,000 or more a year," Campbell writes. "Our 58 community colleges must be better funded to conduct this training."
Campbell also calls for "more streamlined regulations that eliminate unnecessary barriers, excessive permitting and tax policies that encourage [companies] to grow their businesses."
While upgrading the state's infrastructure — including its information superhighway — also would benefit manufacturers, Campbell asserts that a marketing makeover might be even more urgent.
"Mostly, we need to 'rebrand' manufacturing, to change our thinking from smokestacks, pollution and assembly lines to today's new manufacturing reality," Campbell writes. "And we must have more collaboration between government, business, educators and our citizens."