By Dan Linehan
NORTH MANKATO — American manufacturing is undergoing something of a resurgence, and the government wants to help by training workers, opening foreign markets and building infrastructure.
South-central Minnesota’s relative success in manufacturing drew state and federal officials, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, to South Central College in North Mankato on Friday for a forum about the government’s efforts.
Klobuchar said higher education in Minnesota already does a good job at working with industry to train workers, but it could do better, including with women.
“We have to remind women that this is no longer your grandpa’s factory floor,” she said.
She said the government is also looking to compete internationally, given recent global trends. These were summarized by Matt Erskine, deputy assistant secretary for economic development for the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Energy is getting cheaper in the United States — in part due to the natural gas fracking boom — and costs are increasing abroad as wages rise in China and elsewhere. Americans are also more productive than ever, and employers here can count on a reliable supply chain.
The Obama administration has started a new program, the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, to capitalize on these changes. Friday’s meeting is one of several to be held around the country to explain the program.
The program will do three things, Erskine said: recognize an area’s competitive advantages, spend money on infrastructure and encourage community links.
This means spending on existing institutions like colleges and nonprofits figure out their own ways to encourage private sector job creation. In other words, it would do what the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and South Central College, among others, are already doing here.
For example, SCC’s Right Skills Now is a two-semester long program that trains students on computer-controlled machines to prepare them for a manufacturing career. A cavernous but well-lit room in SCC is filled with dozens of sophisticated machines that pump out parts and molds for other parts.
Klobuchar said Minnesota’s strengths include a well trained workforce, a high quality of life, good Internet services and good infrastructure.
Rodney Gramse is director of operations for Faribault-based MRG Tool and Die Corp., which makes molds for products like car dashboards. He said he liked the emphasis on workforce training.
He said manufacturing has been overlooked as a good career choice, and the result of this lack of visibility is a gap between the skills that the workforce has and the skills employers want.
Klobuchar cited a recent survey of employers, 60 percent of whom said they are having trouble finding employers with the right skills.
Gramse also appreciated the spirit of collaboration evident between the government agencies.