Lansing Manufacturing on the Rebound
Our fortunes are tied to the auto industry of course, and the rebound is predominantly in this sector, especially at GM’s Lansing Delta Township plant. The higher volume Chevrolet Traverse is now made here and has replaced the Saturn Outlook. Some of the job additions include workers transferring from Spring Hill, Tenn.—and the plant is operating on three shifts while Lansing Grand River remains on one shift. Jobs at supplier plants have responded to this increased production by adding jobs.
Unlike GM employment growth, which consists solely of recall and transfers, many of the suppliers have added true new hires. And since manufacturers use employment agencies extensively to help staff their plants, some of the job gain at local plants shows up in “business services,” and a good portion of this industry’s gain of 1,000 from a year ago is actually linked to manufacturing.
Other companies are contributing to the job growth in manufacturing. They’re in aerospace and medical device manufacturing, with alternative energy manufacturing serving as the primary growth area for diversification. Again, many of these employers called back workers to assist in the new contracts, but new hires have also contributed to the job gains.
Some future bright spots to note are General Motors’ consideration of new investment in Greater Lansing that could contribute 600-plus jobs, the emerging strength of the industry’s power-generating windmill companies led by Dowding Industries and an expanding bio-manufacturing sector which will bolster both manufacturing and agricultural employment in the region and is boosted by Michigan State University’s expertise.
Additionally, the region boasts a number of resources for manufacturers. The Capital Area Manufacturing Council was started by local companies to bring them together for networking and best practices. With strong ties to Capital Area Michigan Works!, the council helps employers recruit and train for these jobs and has supported training for manufacturers in highly technical fields such as CNC operators, PLC programmers and quality control. The council is currently enlisting manufacturers to participate in a $5,000 incentive program for initiating new apprenticeships, called the Michigan Registered Apprenticeship Pilot.
It’s undeniable that manufacturing jobs will never return to historical levels. In the late ‘70s, there were nearly 50,000 jobs in the sector locally. Today, we’re at well under half of that. But the job loss trend in manufacturing is common across the globe as technology, science and innovation allow companies to do more with fewer workers. Sure, our recent decline is tied to the restructuring of the domestic auto industry, but it’s hard to imagine another restructuring of this magnitude in the near term.
With the strength of local companies, efforts toward diversification in manufacturing and the diversification and strengthening of Greater Lansing’s economy as a whole, area residents can be confident manufacturing will remain a major component of the Lansing-area economy.
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Bob Sherer is the executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council, a community of manufacturers, associates and partners seeking to improve mid-Michigan’s manufacturing competitiveness and to enhance the success of area manufacturers. On the Web at www.camconline.org.