BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Possible minimum wage increase worries NJ manufacturers

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

On Wednesday at the Manufacturing Caucus, companies spoke one by one about some of the issues facing the industry. One topic addressed by many in the room was the debate over raising the minimum wage.

Gov. Phil Murphy wants to increase it from $8.60 to $15 an hour.

Sen. Bob Gordon addressed the topic after the public hearing.

“Frankly, I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to change the course of the minimum wage legislation, but we could carve out certain types of organizations, phase it in,” said Gordon.

The advanced manufacturing industry contributed almost $31 billion to the state’s GDP in 2015. That’s a little over 6 percent of all output. Manufacturers also expressed concern over finding skilled workers.

“Currently, there are a lot of unfilled jobs, about 2.5 million in manufacturing, all because they don’t have the proper skill sets,” said Unex Manufacturing President Brian Neuwirth. “Our holes now are in stuff like truck drivers, welders, auto pickers. In the future, it’s going to be more technology-type driven jobs.”

“Some comments that I’ve capsulized the common comments from the other manufacturers are ‘all my employees have gray hair, what’s going to happen in 10 years? I can’t fill these people. The kids I bring in do not even know how to use simple hand tools,'” said president of Zero Surge, Jim Minadeo.

Out of the 590 school districts in the state only 39, or roughly 15 percent of them, offer manufacturing programs. There are a number of vocational schools students can attend post high school, but these companies say not enough are going.

“The schools have brainwashed the kids to think that college is the only path to a successful career,” said Minadeo.

Gordon says he hopes what comes out of the caucus is a piece of legislation that will create an expansion of vocational training.

“I’m not looking to increase the debt burdens of the state. We already have a daunting debt burden, but I think we can do a bond issue,” he said.

While Gordon did acknowledge the state is falling behind in the manufacturing race, he says he’s optimistic it can take the lead again.