In the first of his two-part series, NJ Today’s David Cruz reports on the state of manufacturing in New Jersey, where despite the numbers, optimism is spreading.
By David Cruz
The state Labor department statistics for March showed a loss of a thousand manufacturing jobs in New Jersey. That sounds like bad news for the sector, but the report also showed the prospects for long-term growth in jobs are good.
New Jersey’s role in the industrial revolution was powered by the Great Falls in Paterson. But that was more than a century ago, and the smokestack factories in New Jersey’s former manufacturing centers like Paterson, Trenton and Newark, sit mostly silent today.
“The days of the smokestack industries in New Jersey are gone,” says Frank Robinson, a Vice President with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. He says that while New Jersey’s manufacturing job base, like that of much of the country, has shrunk considerably, the Garden State is actually poised for a comeback, adding, “High Tech. Bio Tech. We have medical manufacturing. Chemical manufacturing is still here in New Jersey. So while it’s down and there’s competition from foreign countries like China and India, we’ve found that there’s a lot of boutique industries, and quality products made here in the United States and in New Jersey that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.”
A good example of that niche market mindset can be found in Ewing, home to the Pierce-Roberts Rubber Company. Founded in Trenton a hundred years ago, Pierce-Roberts made mostly contraception-related products in its early days. For the last dozen years, it has been owned by partners Denise Hoffman and Christopher Weber. While the company has moved on from condoms into lottery balls and engine belts, it has also developed technologies that help produce parts for Apache helicopters and nuclear submarines.
“Business has grown probably about four times the size now, than from when we started,” said Weber. “We really dove into rubber to metal bonding. That’s a niche that Pierce Roberts had but had never fully developed. And we’ve got a good reputation in the industry for doing the exotics, be it rubber to metal bonding or difficult to mold materials, or difficult geometries, so that’s where we’ve grown.”
Pierce Roberts employs 16 full-time staff at its 40,00 square foot plant. They’ve managed to do well without any help from state government. But Weber says, this year, he’s hoping to take advantage of state programs that help companies pay to train current and, more importantly, new workers. “Everything that we’ve done has been fully self-funded. We haven’t looked to the state for much. But we are going to be hiring about six people soon for a new project and we are going to be searching for some government aid — a grant as far as training is concerned. So that’s something new we’re pursuing with the state.”
Many of these publicly-funded training grants are administered by non-profits like the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP).
“Most of the jobs are being created in the small manufacturing arena,” says Bob Loderstedt, NJMEP’s Executive Director. “Those are manufacturers under 500 employees.”
In Part 2 of our series, we’ll examine how the NJMEP helped one company go from being a small-scale local embroiderer into an international player.