Company Battles Perceptions by Opening Factory Doors on National Manufacturing Day

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Several hundred manufacturers around the country opened shop floors and invited guests inside to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the industry that employs 12-million people in the U.S. But companies participating in the first National Manufacturing Day also had another purpose in mind. After bottoming out in the recent recession, manufacturing employment has started to slowly rebound nationwide. And manufacturers are eager to interest students in considering the industry as a career.

Mestek Machinery, 5480 6th St. S.W. was the only Cedar Rapids company to participate in the national recognition day for the industry. And like a lot of companies, Mestek was hit hard during the recent recession.

Company President Bruce Dewey said things bottomed out with production at about half the rate the company saw in 2007. Some jobs did disappear.

But more recently, a slow turnaround has taken hold. Dewey said sales are up about 20 percent compared to the low point and recently the company announced plans to return some production sent to China and add a handful of new jobs to the 69 employees currently working at the Cedar Rapids facility.

About 100 community college and high school students accepted the offer to look around the factory that makes machinery for the heating, cooling and ventilation industry.

One high school senior, Liam Lafferty, said he was encouraged by news that many manufacturers anticipate a return of hiring in the future. Lafferty saw several avenues that might encourage students his age. "They could either take the engineering or the manufacturing side of it. I think a lot of students who have the skills will be interested," he said.

Junior student Rick Wells agreed manufacturing opportunities should improve even more by the time he graduates. "They're always going to need people and there'll always be opportunities," Wells said.

Dewey said the manufacturing industry knows it has a perception problem to battle to entice the future workers of tomorrow. Some still think of the industry as a dirty, dying business. He thought a National Manufacturing Day was a good way to get people in the door to see for themselves.

Another battle, Dewey said, is convincing people that manufacturing jobs lost in the recession are not all gone for good.

"When most people in America are asked, they know manufacturing is in decline. But if we ask them where we stand in the world, they say 'I don't know—5th or 6th.' We've been number one since 1939 and we're still number one," Dewey said.

A national manufacturing group estimated 600,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are going unfilled right now because the skills of job seekers don't meet the need.

Dewey said inviting students onto the shop floor was another way to get the message across—get the right education and training and you'll get the job.
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