Band uniforms for high schools and major colleges. Fishing reels used by professional anglers. Shock absorbers. Robes worn by U.S. athletes at the London Olympics. Industrial cables used in products that venture to outer space. T-shirts commemorating the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series title. Parts used in aircraft assembled around the world. All products of labor long since gone from the United States, memories from an evaporating manufacturing base?
Nope. Try items being manufactured in your backyard.
While a common refrain nationally is the United States’ manufacturing base has eroded, that jobs are gone and never coming back, a significant piece of the northern Missouri economy continues to thrive upon these jobs and people around the globe depend on the hidden gems produced here in northern Missouri. (See page 6A of today’s Hannibal Courier-Post for “Northern Missouri’s Hidden Gems”)
During the last decade, the number of Americans employed in manufacturing jobs tumbled from around 15.5 million in 2002 to a low of just more than 11 million in late 2009 during the most recent economic recession, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Since then, however, manufacturing jobs have steadied and seen gains, recently topping more than 12 million in the U.S.
And through those difficult times, northern Missouri’s manufactures have continued to account for a significant percentage of both the overall workforce and region’s economy.
The reasons they’ve stayed while so many others have sought seemingly greener pastures overseas are numerous, according to the region’s economic development leaders, including loyalty, ties to agriculture, and access to highways, waterways and rails found here in the nation’s midsection.
According to George Walley, executive director of the Northeast Missouri Economic Development Council, Marion County in general and Hannibal in particular have a lot to offer manufacturers.
“There is a great transportation system located near the crossroads of a massive transportation network - river, rail, road and air,” he said. “We have good utility infrastructure. We now have a redundant electrical feed (in Hannibal) and although we locally view the rate increases as painful, as a region we are still viewed as competitive with other areas of the country.
“The overall cost of doing business which includes taxes, fees, benefit costs and regulation are very competitive in our region,” added Walley. “The quality of our labor force is probably our greatest asset. When I speak to plant manufacturers in our region, many of them have told me that they consider the quality of the individuals they have working for them in Hannibal to be superior to that of locations elsewhere in the U.S.”
It is a reputation Midwesterners have and live up to.
“The work ethic is good in rural America,” said Jerry Boling, operation manager of Ardent Reel in Macon, Mo. “There is a workforce in our area who want to work, and work while they are at work.”
A study of eight counties - Adair, Audrain, Cooper, Linn, Livingston, Macon, Ralls and Randolph - and statistics compiled by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center showed 6,892 people employed by one of the 177 “firms” classified as manufacturers. That figure represents about 18 percent of the workforce engaged in private industry.
Those workers represent a significant chunk of the region’s economy beyond their employment status, taking home more than $256 million in wages, or nearly a quarter of the private industry payroll total.
According to the study, in Marion County 42.24 percent of its total workforce holds a manufacturing position. That ranks No. 1 among the counties surveyed in the study. Walley indicated the high percentage of manufacturing positions is another indicator of the assets Marion County has to offer.
And as the work continues across the region, products continue to be shipped to points across the world, moving the “Made in Missouri” stamp to places like China, Brazil, South Africa and beyond.
“People think America does not manufacture in the foreign market, but we do,” said Sebastian Heintz, CEO of Zenith Aircraft Company in Mexico, Mo. “Some local companies right here profit off of exporting to foreign countries, which is neat.”
Walley is upbeat about the future of manufacturing in Marion County.
“The future is bright! I get very annoyed when I hear people say things like ‘manufacturing is dead in America.’ Yes, in total numbers throughout the country there has been notable decline from historical references. However, it’s also changing,” he said.
What must be done to sustain and enhance Marion County’s manufacturing base?
“In my opinion, the greatest need we have to sustain and grow is workforce development. We need to change the way we are preparing our children for the future and assist those adults that need the retooled skills of our manufactures environments. Specifically, get the permanent community college campus built (in Hannibal) as soon as possible,” said Walley. “Secondly, begin the process of getting our community and surrounding area into the ‘certified work ready community’ program or something similar.”