Bringing Manufacturing Back Home
By Governor Pete Ricketts
October 3, 2022
Governor’s official photo here.
Over the past three years, we’ve dealt with shortages of many goods, from lumber to cars to toilet paper. Supply chain shortages have shown that the United States is overreliant on foreign suppliers. Instead of depending on China for medicine, Taiwan for computer chips, or Russia for fertilizer, we need to return the manufacturing of our products to America.
In Nebraska, we’re doing our part to make “made in America” the norm. We’re developing our workforce, supporting research of cutting-edge technologies, and investing in affordable housing to strengthen manufacturing in the Good Life.
According to a study by The Manufacturing Group and Deloitte, U.S. manufacturing is on pace to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. This shortage of workers threatens to stunt the growth of American manufacturing. Since I took office, my team has been building a talent pipeline to connect our students with the great-paying manufacturing jobs being created in Nebraska.
To familiarize students with manufacturing, it’s important to give them experiences building and creating early on in their education. Our Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) brings together schools and local manufacturers to provide these hands-on learning opportunities to 7th and 8th grade students. Since launching in 2015, DYTI has reached 24,500 students across 66 Nebraska school districts.
This year, MetalQuest in Hebron received a grant of $125,000 to purchase equipment to introduce students to industrial robotics automation and coding. They’re also partnering with schools in Gage, Jefferson, and Thayer counties to create a classroom curriculum with the grant award. It’s the second time MetalQuest has received a DYTI grant. The company used its 2016 grant to work with Sandy Creek and Lawrence Nelson Public Schools on a manufacturing career pathway. Before creating the pathway, only 39% of students reported being interested in a career in manufacturing. After the DYTI program, around 75% expressed interest in a manufacturing career.
Students who develop an interest in manufacturing through DYTI can then take part in a high school career academy to gain industry-specific skills. For example, CNH Industrial partners with Grand Island High School through its Career Pathways Institute. In 2017, CNH donated new fabrication equipment to the school for students to use in learning labs. The equipment is very similar to what CNH uses in its actual manufacturing process. This allows students to get a head start learning the specialized skills needed for industrial careers even before they graduate. CNH also offers a Youth Registered Apprenticeship program for welders and industrial manufacturing technicians. Apprentices earn course credit while getting paid and gaining valuable experience at CNH on the manufacturing floor.
High school graduates can sign up for a Registered Apprenticeship (RA) to gain nationally recognized industry credentials. On average, apprentices in the U.S. have a starting salary of $77,000 after completing their program. They can also earn credits toward a college degree.
We grew RA programs by 15% in 2021, and they continue to increase. Central Community College started its RA program in August 2021 and has already brought on major manufacturing partners such as Chief Fabrication, CNH Industrial, Lindsay Corporation, and Standard Iron. This summer, community colleges in Nebraska won a $4 million federal grant to grow their RA programs. They’ll be able to offer more opportunities for students to earn while they learn trades in manufacturing as machinists, welders, or heavy equipment operators.
In 2020, we created the Career Scholarship program in our community colleges, state colleges, and University system. It’s helping to pay the way for students to receive specialized education in high-demand fields, like engineering, that are essential to manufacturing. Last year, we added private colleges to the program. With that expansion, there will now be at least 2,110 career scholarships by 2023.
We’re supplementing our workforce development with investments in automation that allow manufacturers to do more with less. For example, the State awarded Marble Technologies $155,000 of Business Innovation Act funding last fiscal year. The company is using the grants to design technologies that automate many of the labor-intensive, repetitive tasks in beef and pork processing facilities. These products are helping to address the labor shortages that sometimes serve as a bottleneck in meat processing.
Last month, Invest Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development were part of a coalition that won a $25 million federal grant to create a Heartland Robotics Cluster. The goal of the initiative is to spur robotics innovation so that we can boost labor productivity in Nebraska. The Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership will use $1.4 million from the award to build a manufacturing automation program and space to demonstrate breakthrough products. Northeast Community College will receive funds from the award to develop an automation fabrication lab designed to support the needs of area manufacturers. The grant will also go toward robotics research and development at The Combine—the program supporting agricultural entrepreneurship at Nebraska Innovation Campus.
We’re prioritizing affordable housing to support the manufacturing growth happening across Nebraska. Our manufacturing companies can best recruit talent when there are plenty of local housing options available. Housing funds have been a key part of our strategy to increase inventories of high-quality, reasonably priced homes. We awarded $7 million of Rural Workforce Housing Fund grants in 2018, and another $10 million in 2021. We also awarded $10 million of Middle Income Workforce Housing grants in 2021 for home construction in Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties. This legislative session, we allocated an additional $128.5 million to address the need for affordable housing across the state.
Our efforts to grow manufacturing are paying off. This year, manufacturing employment in Nebraska has reached its highest point since 2003! I’m proclaiming October as Manufacturing Month in Nebraska to celebrate the great work of manufacturers in our state and to highlight the State’s commitment to manufacturing.
If you have any questions about the State’s work to support manufacturing, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2244.