PHARR, RGV – On the eve of National Manufacturing Day, Mike Willis, executive director of the South Texas Manufacturers Association, has given an overview of the state of manufacturing in the region.
Willis says the Rio Grande Valley can attract more manufacturing but to help this effort along more young people must pursue STEM and advanced manufacturing programs and careers – in order to develop and support a broader supplier base.
Hidalgo County Commissioners Court recently recognized October as Manufacturing Month. Willis was present for the proclamation. On Friday, the National Manufacturing Day will be celebrated by various entities at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD’s Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School.
Among the entities involved in the celebration at the early college high school are the two joint hosts, Pharr Economic Development Corporation and PSJA, along with Pharr International Bridge, the South Texas Manufacturing Association, UT-Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, the RGV Partnership, and INDEX Reynosa. INDEX Reynosa President Alex Avila will give the keynote speech at the PSJA-PEDC event. INDEX is the trade association for the maquila industry in Mexico. The maquila plants in Reynosa employ more than 100,000 workers.
Speaking on NewsTalk 710 KURV, Keith Patridge, president and CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, gave a list of the local celebrations for National Manufacturing Day. In addition to the PSJA/PEDC celebration, Patridge listed these events:
“From 8:30 to 12 at Humanetics in McAllen there are plant tours for PSJA students, Universal Metal Products, which is a plant over on Highway 281, and then South Texas College Precision Manufacturing Tehnology Program is having an all-day event from 7:30 to 2:30 at the technology campus down on Military Highway,” Patridge said.
MEDC works closely with INDEX Reynosa and the manufacturing companies that have located in the city. Patridge recently visited a plant in Reynosa that is now using robots instead of humans to do some of the assembly work. Speaking on KURV, Patridge said just because robotics are taking over the functions of humans in some manufacturing processes it does not mean a net loss of jobs. He pointed out that nationally there are about 300,000 manufacturing jobs currently going unfilled.
“Somebody has to run the robots. What that does is, what normally used to be a lower-skilled type of job putting components together, widgets together, if it is being done by the robot now, now you have to have someone to program the robots, to repair the robots.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, STMA’s Willis said National Manufacturing Day is sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute. South Texas Manufacturers Association is a partner of the Manufacturing Institute.
“The purpose of National Manufacturing Day is to increase awareness in our communities of where we are, what we do, our processes, career opportunities in the industry, and how we impact our communities. And STMA has reached out to our business, community, education, and economic development partners to encourage hosting of events to accomplish the above goals,” Willis said.
“The purpose of National Manufacturing Day is to increase awareness in our communities of where we are, what we do, our processes, career opportunities in the industry, and how we impact our communities. And STMA has reached out to our business, community, education, and economic development partners to encourage hosting of events to accomplish the above goals.”
Willis said his key thoughts about manufacturing in the Valley are:
· While manufacturing employment has declined over the past 15 years in the USA (and the RGV), the value of manufactured goods has increased significantly.
· The reason is that we have used automation and technology to improve quality and efficiency in all manufacturing processes – this reduced the need for the low-skilled, repetitious types of labor that many of the ‘lost’ jobs consisted of.
· Today a higher percentage of manufacturing jobs are advanced manufacturing – operating precision equipment, CNC machining, robotics, precision measurement, etc.
· Even with the decline in manufacturing employment, our numbers across the state might surprise many. Texas had only 300,000 people employed directly in the energy sector before the recent downturn. We have almost 900,000 employed directly in the manufacturing sector in Texas.
· In the RGV alone, we have a wide range of manufacturing companies, making everything from bathroom vanities, mattresses, oil drilling components and equipment, 3D Printed parts, molded and stamped components, aerospace electrical connectors, refurbishing jet engine blades, rockets that place satellites in orbit, and innovative nanofiber technology and equipment, to name a few.
· In the RGV, we have an opportunity to capitalize on our proximity to Mexico. With the tremendous manufacturing investment and employment growth in the interior of Mexico, the rebound in employment in the Reynosa maquila industry, the new KIA automotive plant in Monterrey, and the recurring delays at the Port of Long Beach in California for imported components, there is increased need for suppliers to be located closer to their manufacturing customers in Mexico.
· Manufacturing jobs, like energy and construction (the goods-producing jobs) have a much higher job creation multiplier than service jobs. So growing our manufacturing sector will further stimulate job growth in retail, healthcare, banking, housing, insurance, etc.
· The U.S. side has lower electricity rates, favorable land and building costs, and better security than Mexico.
· For capital-intensive component manufacturing companies who supply the large assembly plants in Mexico, the higher cost of labor here is often offset by these other factors, making it an attractive option to locate in the RGV.
· Economic development corporations (EDCs) are seeing regular interest from relocation prospects – the primary challenge and concern is usually whether or not we have the workforce with the skills needed for these types of jobs.
· We have a fast-growing, young population and excellent community colleges, technical schools, and universities, good collaboration between the educational community, the workforce boards, EDCs, and the private sector. The opportunity is there but we need for more young people to pursue STEM and advanced manufacturing education programs and careers in order to develop and support a broader supplier base.
Willis is slated to attend the big manufacturing gala at PSJA’s Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School on Friday. The address of the school is 714 U.S. Business 83 in Pharr. The event starts at 10:00 a.m. with an introduction by Sergio Contreras, executive director of Pharr EDC. INDEX Reynosa’s Avila will give the keynote speech at 10:10 a.m. From 10:30 to 10:45 a.m., Carlos Margo, of South Texas College, will talk about STC’s dual enrollment program. After this, Daniel King, superintendent of PSA will give the closing remarks. There will then be a walkthrough the school for those who wish to see a manufacturing and technology exhibition. From 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. students from PSJA will receive a tour of the UTRGV College of Engineering by Dr. James Li. Over 250 PSJA students are expected to attend and participate in the event to encourage and support careers in manufacturing.
Pharr EDC’s Contreras said Manufacturing Day is an annual national event executed at the local level and supported by thousands of manufacturers. These manufacturers, Contreras said, play host students, teachers, parents, job seekers and other local community members at open houses, plant tours and presentations designed to showcase modern manufacturing technology and careers.
“There is an increasing demand for highly skilled professionals in the manufacturing sector who can design, program and operate technology,” Contreras said. “The average age of a manufacturing employee is 56, and between now and 2020 there will be an unprecedented shortage of skilled workers who will need to be replaced.”