More and better recruiting of potential future workers, smarter marketing plans and even legislative help to solve local traffic congestion were among the solutions presented Friday to help suburban manufacturers get the skilled labor and resources they need to move ahead.
What those specific solutions involve and how they could be implemented are still being discussed in the wake of two regional manufacturing reports from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
"It's a manufacturing moment," said Randall Blankenhorn, executive director of CMAP.
That moment involves grasping the advantages of a region that's dense with manufacturers and jobs, he said. Metropolitan Chicago has about 12,100 manufacturers that employ about 580,000 workers, making it the second-largest manufacturing cluster in the nation, according to CMAP. About 60,000 of those jobs are in the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Northwest Cook, central DuPage and eastern Kane counties.
On Friday, CMAP presented its findings from two reports, one released in February and another last week, before 40 suburban manufacturing executives and owners eager to find solutions to ongoing issues. They met at Sandvik Coromant Co., a Stockholm, Sweden-based manufacturer with 52,000 workers worldwide, including about 8,000 in Schaumburg.
Some issues include changing the image of manufacturing from a dirty job to the more high-tech and modern environment that it is; finding skilled workers to replace many who are retiring from jobs in various levels; and easing traffic congestion to help workers and products get to where they need to go.
While the local manufacturing industry has survived some tough times, it is now aiming to turn the tide by reaching out to younger students to entice them with good-paying, high-tech jobs, several manufacturing representatives said. They're partnering with various groups, including the Golden Corridor Manufacturing Group along the I-90 corridor, to ensure the word gets out.
The executives bantered ideas, including one manufacturing owner who said the image could be hampered by some longtime workers.
"This is probably anecdotal, but there are some older workers in tool and die who just don't feel appreciated in the field and they're the ones sending their kids away from manufacturing," said Paul Rimington, owner of Diemasters Manufacturing Inc. in Elk Grove Village.
Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, said she wants to help local manufacturers get what they need to help their industry, workers and the local economy.
"This is a significant manufacturing district and one of the largest concentrations of tool and die manufacturers in the nation," Duckworth said. "This workforce has the capacity to do even more."