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Guest Editorial

Be unforgettable

By Mike Womack, marketing and communications manager, NJMEP

How advocacy gives the industry a voice

FFJ 0522 guest lead2May 2022 - It can be easy to forget the importance of a strong domestic manufacturing base. These businesses, especially small to medium manufacturers that make up the bulk of local industry, rarely have a chance to be seen by the public in a positive light. When the public forgets the value of an industry, local and federal government focus their attention elsewhere.

This lack of awareness translates into what those manufacturers deem excessive restrictions and regulations, and a general lack of pro-manufacturing legislation at all levels of government. Manufacturing and its workers were hailed as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic when global supply chains crumbled and domestic manufacturers and suppliers stepped in to fill those gaps.

However, as the support for healthcare workers waned, so did the attention given to the manufacturing industry. No substantial positive actions to help support and sustain a strong domestic industrial base in the United States were provided. The reason for this is the industry is a quiet one, keeping its head down to make payroll and grow business.

Change the status quo

Manufacturing can make its way back into the hearts and minds of the American people. More specifically, the industry has the perfect opportunity to inject itself into local and federal decision-making because of all the goodwill it has developed over the past two years. These organizations have the chance to reassert their value to elected officials and educate decision-makers on why the industry should receive adequate protection and government support.

No matter how an individual might feel about bureaucracy and government programs or incentives, the federal and state government is the silent partner of all business. It has the power to prop up an industry, allowing it to thrive, or to neglect or over-regulate it. Many manufacturers have raised the issue of regulatory overreach. Positive change starts with the industry speaking up for itself by coming together and getting involved.

Advocacy

Advocacy is not the same as lobbying. There are plenty of associations and chambers accepting dues-paying companies to join their ranks as they fund professional lobbyists to fight for specific legislation on Capitol Hill. Advocacy can be done by anyone but has little power without a connected and committed group of individuals and organizations.

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) works to bring manufacturers together periodically throughout the year to advocate for the industry on a local level. NJMEP helped develop the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Manufacturing Caucus that meets with manufacturing leaders from specific sectors to learn about the most disruptive challenges these companies face. Every year, NJMEP hosts the State-of-the-State of Manufacturing, which brings together hundreds of manufacturing business leaders to show the lack of support is not a localized issue, but an industrywide challenge. These events quantify the value of local industry and provide examples of how much more it can contribute to the local and national economy if it received more support—either the elimination of red tape or new incentives for expanding or operating in the state.

New Jersey’s deep-rooted past of industrialization was thought by many to have dissolved. The public and a majority of the legislature thought New Jersey was nothing more than a service-based economy. But in 2022, a majority of the local legislature not only understands that the state is home to over 11,000 manufacturing, engineering and STEM firms (a majority of which employ an average of 32 people), but also just how much these businesses contribute to the state’s GDP.

The over $56 billion that manufacturing contributes to New Jersey’s GDP is no longer being ignored, and more and more policymakers are supporting the industry and working to develop legislation with the goal of making New Jersey a more manufacturing-friendly state.

This was accomplished because manufacturers came together to amplify their voice. They took time to connect, engage and speak up for themselves and their fellow manufacturers. Manufacturers all over the country should follow their lead and work to break through to their legislature. As more manufacturers engage publicly, recognition and support will follow. If the industry continues to keep its head down, it only has itself to blame for being forgotten and underserved.  FFJ

Mike Womack was the marketing manager for a New Jersey manufacturer before joining the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program Inc. (973/998-9801), where he is the marketing and communications manager.

Sources

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