By Mark Langlois

SOMERSET, N.J.—Attendees at the seventh annual “Made in New Jersey” Manufacturing Day celebration heard that business is brisk and workforce development tops their list of needs. The event, hosted by the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, Inc. (NJMEP) on October 5 in Somerset, New Jersey, featured workshops and seminars on timely manufacturing issues, from tariffs and taxes to innovative technologies. It also recognized the winners of the 2018 New Jersey Manufacturing Awards.

“We need talent to grow our companies,” said Paul Rettberg, the apprenticeship program manager at Weiss-Aug Co. Inc., a precision manufacturing firm in East Hanover, New Jersey. He said people looking for work rarely have the skills manufacturers need when they first walk in the door. “Companies need to train their employees.”

Rettberg, who worked for 50 years at Weiss-Aug, said Weiss-Aug funds its apprenticeship program just as it funds marketing, machinery, raw materials, or anything else. It’s a budget item and a cost of doing business. Every year, three to five people are trained and paid to train. Weiss-Aug will spend roughly $400,000 on its apprenticeship program next year, Rettberg told the labor panel audience at the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program Manufacturing Day. The panel was titled “Tips for recruiting, retaining, and linking into underutilized talent pools.”

Rettberg said the state Department of Labor will help a company create an apprenticeship program. It isn’t a ton of paperwork, but an apprenticeship program costs the company money. He said the benefit is every year, the firm hires several trained workers.

“Think of the alternative,” Rettberg said. “If you don’t train, you may not have a company by 2021.”

The day’s keynote speaker, Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, agreed with Rettberg when he said workforce training and people are one of the Authority’s four main target areas for the next year.

“We have to invest in the next generation of talent,” said Sullivan, who said that was part of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s economic development address this year.

The NJMEP hosts Manufacturing Day each year to bring together manufacturers, students, supporters, legislators, and industry experts in a collective effort to educate visitors about manufacturing career opportunities and improve public perceptions of manufacturing.

Wexco Industries Inc., a maker of wipers for any purpose that can be designed to order, won Manufacturer of the Year for under 50 employees. Wexco, founded in 1991 and based in Pine Brook, New Jersey, is a women-owned business that makes custom wipers for almost every industry.

The winner of Manufacturer of the Year for a medium-sized company was Edmund Optics, of Barrington, New Jersey. The firm was founded in 1942 and started out making optics and other science items for hobbyists and schools. Today it has moved into industrial applications, including semiconductor manufacturing, industrial metrology, and medical instruments.

More than ten times the number of attendees showed up for New Jersey’s Manufacturing Day this year than at the first Manufacturing Day seven years ago, said John W. Kennedy, CEO at NJMEP. Dozens of manufacturers showed off their wares at booths, and hundreds attended the panel discussions and awards ceremony.

“Manufacturing is one of the largest industries in New Jersey, and is very much alive—and  thriving,” said Kennedy.

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program is a private not-for-profit organization that has been working for more than 20 years to improve the profitability, competitiveness, and employee performance of New Jersey manufacturing companies with the backing of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“More than 11,000 Manufacturing and STEM firms currently employ over 375,000 workers within the Garden State, with an emphasis on technologically-advanced manufacturing processes across industries,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said New Jersey’s manufacturing sector is worth approximately $46 billion in output and represents 7.8 percent of the State’s gross domestic product. The NJMEP is focused on numerous initiatives to address such issues as workforce development; taxes, tariffs and fees; regulatory issues; and competition from other states.

For more information about Manufacturing Day or the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, visit www.njmep.org.

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