BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Manufacturer Says Industry Needs More Skilled Workers

Operating a manufacturing business in New Jersey can be challenging, according to Cliff Lindholm, president and CEO of Falstrom Company and part of the New Jersey Business and Industry Manufacturing Network. He sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the industry in the Garden State.

“Operating a manufacturing business in New Jersey, and operating really any business in New Jersey, has its challenges,” Lindholm said. “I think in particular manufacturers are faced with things that put us at a competitive disadvantage to some other states.” He cites taxes and the high cost of utilities as items that make manufacturing more difficult.

Another challenge for manufacturers is finding skilled laborers, according to Lindholm. “We do have a lot of really great schools and a lot of highly educated people but what we find is that individuals looking for work in manufacturing are lacking a certain skill set that we need, such as understanding basic mathematics, knowing how to use some of the basic shop tools like a caliper and micrometer, converting fractions to decimals,” he said. Finding high school students with the necessary skills is “a real challenge,” he said.

One way to increase the labor pool is a 12-week program recently started at Middlesex County College for unemployed veterans to train them in basic manufacturing skills. It is a joint venture with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the New Jersey Department of Labor and the County College Consortium. “We’re going to pair them up with manufacturers so at the end of that 12-week period they come out with training and they also have a job waiting for them,” Lindholm said.

Many manufacturing businesses have moved their operations out of New Jersey. Lindholm said he has gotten offers from states like North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio to relocate, but he hasn’t considered a move.

“Like most manufacturers in the state of New Jersey, we serve a niche industry and we have a very skilled and long-term workforce that would be very difficult to replicate in other places like Pennsylvania,” he said. “So while on the surface it might seem like an attractive idea to move your business south or somewhere else, New Jersey seems to serve us fairly well.”

Gov. Chris Christie has been pushing Grow New Jersey, a program meant to encourage more businesses to come to and stay in the Garden State, though some have criticized the endeavor as favoring large corporations and leaving smaller business owners without help. Lindholm said bringing larger manufacturers into New Jersey would be beneficial, even for his smaller business because it serves larger operations.

Lindholm is optimistic for the future of business in New Jersey. “I think the business climate in the state has begun to change,” he said. “I think there’s a realization here in New Jersey that manufacturing specifically, business in general, is the engine to allow us to provide the services and benefits that our citizens here have come to expect.”

While he admits that manufacturing likely will not reach levels it once had in New Jersey, Lindholm said the industry is high tech, working in the digital age with computers.

“Manufacturing is a great career opportunity,” he said. “I think kids in high school need to consider manufacturing whether you go on to engineering or whether you choose a job in manufacturing right out of high school.”

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Related: New Jersey Makes: A Two-Part Series on the State of Manufacturing in New Jersey