State’s manufacturing past is part of the future

Industry continues to be a key cog in Massachusetts’ economy

THE DIVERSITY OF the Massachusetts economy is one of its strengths. Our leading positions in health care, higher education, technology, and the life sciences have allowed the Commonwealth to thrive during periods of expansion and weather the storms of recession better than other regions. Manufacturing remains a vital sector of our national economy, and one that is often overshadowed by these other industries of strength in Massachusetts.

The textile mills of the Commonwealth permanently changed the face of Massachusetts, leaving their footprints, legacies and memories on some 45 mill-towns, almost all of which remain active municipal centers 200 years later.

The textile industry has long since departed, but manufacturing still provides 10 percent of our total economic output. That’s $26 billion – based on total exported goods from Massachusetts in 2016. More than 7,000 Massachusetts companies employ almost 250,000 workers in their manufacturing facilities.

Many—like Affordable Interior Systems (AIS) —continue to grow rapidly. In 30 years, our company has grown to more than 750 employees, into 600,000-square-feet of space, where all of our office furniture and products are now manufactured and produced on site.

In fact, the success enjoyed by AIS over the past few years is a great representation of the manufacturing industry throughout Massachusetts, and illustrates the impact a manufacturer can have on its local economy.

In 2016, AIS moved to our current state-of-the-art facility in Leominster and revitalized the role of manufacturing jobs in a town once recognized as a manufacturing powerhouse, earning the nickname “Pioneer Plastics City.” Our current factory headquarters had stood empty for 20 years before our arrival.

Today, our company continues to thrive. We’re constantly adding and upgrading equipment, and always seek first to use locally sourced materials for our furniture and operations. Most importantly, our Leominster base created more than 750 manufacturing jobs in a number of different fields. Over that same two-year period the unemployment rate in our city plummeted from 12 percent to just over 4 percent.

These numbers are not the doing of AIS alone. Instead they demonstrate a trend long known to many of New England’s middle-class cities and towns: when manufacturers succeed, local economies thrive.

When a local economy rests on a solid manufacturing foundation, local businesses of all sizes and industries benefit. The innovative start-ups Massachusetts is known for can freely expand and develop without outgrowing their environment. Tech companies benefit from being able to produce their products locally, saving on transportation and timeliness.

In addition to supporting local businesses, the jobs created by manufacturers are steady, well-paid, and range in complexity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Worcester County manufacturing employee made an average of $74,642 in 2015, more than $4,000 above the national line. These jobs are just as vital for local workers as they are for economies, because many do not require a college degree.

Despite the benefits of a career in manufacturing, one of the largest perennial problems in our industry is hiring and retaining a vibrant workforce. The continued retirement of the Baby Boomer generation exacerbates this issue more each year. Of the roughly 250,000 manufacturing employees residing in Massachusetts, an estimated 10,000 will retire over the next decade, and filling those positions gets harder every year.

Despite its economic importance, manufacturing is often viewed negatively among young workers—a consequence of the untrue notion that a college degree is the only way to succeed in today’s economy.

It’s our responsibility as employers to illustrate all of the options for the Commonwealth’s young and eager workforce. Massachusetts manufacturing companies are opening their doors to high schools, vocational academies, community and state colleges to educate students about the possibilities careers in manufacturing provide.

The largest problem facing Massachusetts’ manufacturers is recruiting the workforce. Fortunately, we have strong support from both the Legislature and the Baker-Polito administration to help our industry overcome this challenge.

The Manufacturing Caucus in the Legislature continues working to keep moving our industry forward and the administration has made significant investments in local vocational schools to ensure they have the proper equipment and machinery for students to be exposed to as they explore careers in the manufacturing industry.

Meet the Author
The manufacturing industry has a long, proud history here in Massachusetts, and it looks like we have a long, proud future as well.

Bruce Platzman is CEO and president of Affordable Interior Systems in Leominster.