Electric Boat, Alex and Ani, Toray Plastics, Raytheon, Amgen – these are some of the best-known companies in Rhode Island. They are some of our most successful businesses, and they are some of our largest employers, as well. But they are also bound by another common thread – they are all manufacturers.
Why is that important? Because as we continue the discussion about what Rhode Island must do to improve its economy and promote job growth, we believe the focus should be on one of the most important sectors we have right at our fingertips. With a renewed focus on growing our manufacturing base, we can begin to turn our high unemployment rate around.
Consider the initial findings of the Rhode Island Manufacturing Renaissance Project and its ongoing survey of the top 1,000 manufacturing companies in the state. A joint effort between Bryant University’s John H. Chafee Center for International Business, the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association and the R.I. Manufacturing Extension Services, the Manufacturing 1000 survey was created to help identify and clearly define the capabilities of manufacturing companies in Rhode Island.
More than 80 percent of respondents plan to add employees in the next three years. Further, more than 85 percent of those are looking for entry-level production or machine operator employees. With even the most conservative estimates, that would mean nearly 2,000 additional direct manufacturing jobs for the Rhode Island economy in a very short period of time. Coupled with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics multiplier effect associated with manufacturing jobs, we could see the manufacturing industry add almost 5,000 jobs to the state economy, and help put our unemployment rate below the national average.
Just as the economy has changed over the past 20 years, so too has manufacturing. Decades ago most small manufacturers in Rhode Island and throughout the United State faced only local competition. Today it is national and global. Mass production systems have evolved into flexible production systems; and where once capital and labor were the key factors determining productivity, today innovation and creativity, as well as access to capital, are the key factors. Workers also must be flexible, dynamic and able to adapt to new market demands, many of which are technology-based.