Rep. Bryon Short: Manufacturing is alive and well in The First State

 

This column was published in today's edition of The News Journal 

 

By Rep. Bryon Short


In a recent column in this space, a leading Republican in the General Assembly lamented the state of manufacturing in Delaware, pointing to the closing of our major auto plants several years ago. But to make his point, he left out key facts that demonstrate the strength of manufacturing today in our state, including how Delaware has positioned itself as a manufacturing leader in our region and beyond.

It didn’t serve his purpose to talk about Advanced Materials Technology in Talleyville, a producer of precision chromatography equipment; or Zacros America, which is moving its advanced packaging materials operation from Baltimore to Newark; or Uzin Utz, a German flooring maker building a brand new factory in Dover. And he chose to ignore longstanding Delaware manufacturers like Kraft Foods and Energizer, both of which recently announced plans to move more operations here. Even though we don’t build cars anymore, we’re fast becoming a center for innovative, specialized and highly skilled manufacturing firms that like the way we do business in Delaware.

Numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics tell the tale. In Delaware, we employ a greater percentage of our workforce in manufacturing jobs than any of the states in our region except Pennsylvania – historically a manufacturing powerhouse. Over the past two years, growth of manufacturing jobs in Delaware also has outpaced other states in the region, second only to Pennsylvania.

To make sure those numbers keep trending in the right direction, the state is making a commitment to provide training and education for the future workers these advanced manufacturers will employ. The “Manufacturing Pathways” programs, developed in direct cooperation with industry, allow Delaware high school students to take specialized courses earlier in their educational careers, participate in internships at manufacturers across the state and earn college credits at Delaware Tech.

The manufacturing jobs of yesteryear didn’t usually require post-secondary education, but the new ones do. That’s why the General Assembly and Gov. Markell have placed such emphasis on high school graduation rates and post-secondary education. Today, more Delaware students graduate high school prepared to develop advanced skills than ever before.

Nonpartisan researchers also have taken notice of Delaware’s progress. Gallup’s recent state Job Creation Index ranked us 10th overall, with the most favorable climate for job creation on the East Coast. In a comprehensive New Economy Index prepared by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Delaware ranked second among all states, and No. 1 in research and development investment, and ability to attract foreign investment.

The same political voices who would have us believe manufacturing is dead in Delaware also tell us the only way to lure those jobs back is by undercutting workers and guaranteeing the lowest labor costs around. They’re wrong about that, too.

Today, 25 states have implemented the policy known as “Right to Work,” the same one Republicans are saying we should adopt. In those states, the average unemployment rate is 5.4 percent, higher than Delaware’s rate of 4.6 percent.

Wages also are better here than in those states. Delaware’s wage growth over the past two years was 4.4 percent, which outpaced growth in 17 of the so-called “Right to Work” states. Averaged together, wage growth in “Right to Work” states was a full 10 percent below Delaware.

In another newspaper article last month, the same Republican legislator, arguing in favor of “Right to Work,” was quoted as saying “Isn’t low wages better than no wage? ... Any job is better than no job.”

The way I see it, Delaware’s middle class needs its elected officials to sustain the progress we’re seeing in our manufacturing sector, not trade it in for a policy that promises to take a toll on our quality of life and our families’ futures. 

Bryon Short represents the 7th District in the Delaware House of Representatives, where he chairs the House Economic Development, Banking, Insurance, Commerce and Tourism Committee, and serves as co-chair of the Small Business Caucus.