Re­turn of a mighty eco­nomic force

The Oklahoman - - OPINION - BY PHIL AL­BERT Al­bert is CEO of Pelco Struc­tural.

There’s an iconic mo­ment in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” where Iowa farmer Ray Kin­sella hears a voice say­ing: “If you build it they will come.” Ray heeds the voice’s words and — as one does — builds a base­ball diamond in the mid­dle of Iowa where the ghosts of for­mer great base­ball stars emerge from his corn­field to play ball.

There’s a rea­son this clas­sic, if some­what unique, story has stood the test of time. Build­ing things is part of Amer­ica’s DNA. Build­ing things mat­ters.

In Oc­to­ber, we cel­e­brate Amer­ica’s man­u­fac­tur­ing might with Na­tional Man­u­fac­tur­ing Month.

What bet­ter time to as­sess man­u­fac­tur­ing’s con­tri­bu­tions to the na­tion and Ok­la­homa? I whole­heart­edly be­lieve in the im­por­tance of build­ing things, of mak­ing some­thing that mat­ters, and in fact, I’ve spent my ca­reer in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. I over­see Clare­more’s Pelco Struc­tural plant, where we de­sign, fab­ri­cate and man­u­fac­ture steel poles for a va­ri­ety of uses in­clud­ing car­ry­ing cru­cial elec­tric­ity to power Amer­ica’s ro­bust econ­omy.

In re­cent decades, man­u­fac­tur­ing has faded a bit in pub­lic sen­ti­ment, but fa­vor­able tax poli­cies and a surg­ing econ­omy have placed man­u­fac­tur­ing at cen­ter stage once again. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tions of Man­u­fac­tur­ers, “for ev­ery $1.00 spent in man­u­fac­tur­ing, an­other $1.89 is added to the econ­omy. That is the high­est mul­ti­plier ef­fect of any eco­nomic sec­tor.” In 2017, man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­vided for 11.6 per­cent of GDP, and dur­ing 2018’s first quar­ter, man­u­fac­tur­ing con­trib­uted $2.33 tril­lion to the U.S. econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Eco­nomic Anal­y­sis. In the past 12 months, the in­crease in jobs in the in­dus­try has been the most since 1995.

As new tech­nolo­gies and new op­por­tu­ni­ties arise within the sec­tor, it’s time we rec­og­nize the re-emer­gence of the in­creas­ingly im­por­tant man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. Our in­dus­try’s fam­ily sus­tain­ing jobs pro­pel the econ­omy and pro­vide Amer­i­cans with good wages and sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits. Over the next decade, it’s ex­pected that nearly 3.5 mil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs will be cre­ated, and it’s cru­cial that our work­force is pre­pared to meet the sig­nif­i­cant need.

In Ok­la­homa, man­u­fac­tur­ing accounts for one of the largest shares of em­ploy­ment and pri­vate out­put, and man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs were some of the lead­ing con­trib­u­tors to earn­ings growth in early 2018. The in­dus­try is a boon for our state, one in which we should fo­cus greater time, ed­u­ca­tion and en­ergy into since a job in man­u­fac­tur­ing will yield strong eco­nomic and so­ci­etal re­turns. Though re­cent tar­iffs and a widen­ing skills gap — ac­cord­ing to Deloitte, 84 per­cent of ex­ec­u­tives agree that there’s a worker short­age in the in­dus­try — have ham­pered progress in some sec­tors, the in­dus­try as a whole con­tin­ues to thrive. His­tor­i­cal growth is pre­dicted in wages, hir­ing and in­vest­ment, and that growth ben­e­fits our na­tion, state, com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies.

In spite of con­cerns about tar­iffs and work­force short­age, op­ti­mism re­mains high for the fu­ture of the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. Man­u­fac­tur­ing is no longer look­ing back­ward, we are look­ing for­ward, em­brac­ing new tech­nolo­gies in­clud­ing the evo­lu­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, as one ex­am­ple. The back­bone of Amer­ica’s re­nais­sance is back, bet­ter and stronger than ever. Build­ing things is bring­ing pros­per­ity and op­ti­mism to our great state and na­tion. That’s worth cel­e­brat­ing.

Phil Al­bert

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