From natural resources deep underground to spacecraft up beyond the stars-and even the first Americans to walk the moon-Texas’ manufacturing imprint is seemingly everywhere.

Our critical industry has been exceedingly strong in recent years, and with the right policies at the federal and statewide levels-and a workforce to support it-manufacturing can continue leading Texas toward new frontiers, as it always has.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) stopped in Houston on the 2019 State of Manufacturing Tour to highlight what manufacturing means to the Lone Star State-and to our country-and the challenges and opportunities facing the industry moving forward. Fifty years ago, on the surface of the Moon, Neil Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind” on the shoulders of the dreamers and doers of manufacturing-many in Texas-who worked to make that achievement possible. Today, men and women of manufacturing continue to pursue the seemingly impossible and pull us into the future.

Jeff Moseley

It’s not just what manufacturers create that define the industry, but how they make it. Advancing technologies-from automation to 3-D printing, augmented reality to quantum computing, artificial intelligence to robotics and more-are creating shop floors of the future. As technology rapidly advances, so does the manufacturing industry. 2018 was the strongest year for manufacturing job growth since 1997, with an average of 22,000 workers added each month. About 896,700 Texans work in manufacturing, and the industry pays, on average, nearly $36,000 more in wages and benefits than other non-farm industries.

Despite being a well-paying, high-tech industry, one headwind facing manufacturers that we must address is the industry’s workforce shortage. There are nearly half a million manufacturing jobs available in the United States, and, according to a recent study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute – the education and workforce partner of the NAM – manufacturers will need to fill 4.6 million jobs over the next decade. So now is a great time to pursue a career in manufacturing, but manufacturers are struggling to find workers with the right skills and qualifications.

Tony Bennett

Through developing skills and technical training available in short-term education programs, Texans can get the qualifications to immediately fill manufacturing jobs, often in two years or less. Whether a young student or a lifelong learner, the skills developed in these programs can lead the way to a lifelong, fulfilling career. Additionally, the Manufacturing Institute has a program called “Heroes MAKE America,” which equips active duty servicemembers with the training they need to transition into high-skilled manufacturing jobs after leaving the military. Fort Hood was one of the first participants in this program, which is giving back to the men and women of our armed forces-many of whom will stay and work in manufacturing in Texas after graduation-while growing our manufacturing workforce.

The future of manufacturing is tied to the workforce that will support it, but it will also require federal policies that continue supporting and encouraging the growth of the industry. More than 90 percent of Texas’ manufacturing output comes from exports-and nearly 50 percent is supported by our two North American Free Trade Agreement partners. Lawmakers in Washington should move quickly to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and they should look to expand new markets to U.S. exports through more trade agreements with our foreign partners. Our elected leaders should also come together to agree on updating our nation’s aging infrastructure and tackle the hard (but necessary) challenge of fixing our immigration system to strengthen border security while also staying true to our values as a welcoming nation.

At Rice University, President John F. Kennedy reminded us that, “This State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them.” In Texas, we continue to look toward the future-and manufacturers will continue to build it.