Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Doug Ford: Manufacturing still vital to Solano County economy

Doug Ford: Manufacturing still vital to Solano County economy

By Doug Ford

Posted: 10/06/16, 5:45 PM PDT | Updated: 1 week, 4 days ago

Solano EDC keynote speakers Dorothy Rothrock and Bill Gaines talk, “Why ‘Manufacturing’ for Solano County?” last week launched a new series on why specific industries are important to Solano County that will be featured in coming EDC breakfasts. Rothrock is president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association. She demonstrated how important manufacturing is in Solano County’s economy.

On one leading measure, output per job, manufacturing produces $1,466,969 compared with government, construction, and the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors whose output per job range between $370,456 and $240,782. Five other sectors produce less, down to accommodation and food services at $80,839.

However, in California, the leading manufacturing state in the union since World War II, job growth has been increasing since 2010 at only 3.6 percent compared with the nation as a whole which has increased at 7.2 percent. So we have work to do. The most often cited reason for California’s slower growth rate has been “we can’t find skilled workers.”

One response to this issue is that the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges launched a Task Force on Workforce Job Creation and a Strong Economy. In 2015, the report by the members of the task force made 25 recommendations needed to correct the situation. Two hundred million dollars have been made available to carry out the recommendations. The report can be found on the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Website.

In 1983, Bill Gaines, a former General Motors engineer, established Transfer Flow, Inc. in Chico to manufacture fuel system equipment for the motorhome and travel trailer industry. He grew the business that started with only a small number of workers in one small building into a large factory with several buildings and well over 100 employees. He has been successful by using the most up-to-date technology and machinery to make his products.

But his greatest problem has been in finding workers with adequate skills to operate the equipment. He has installed several high precision machines such as robot welders and laser cutting tools that are controlled by G-code which his workers must be highly skilled in using to make fuel tanks and systems. He has frequently had to travel to other states to recruit employees to do the work.

Within the past few years he has passed on the management responsibilities of the company to his daughters and their husbands and has been using his own time to become a leading spokesman for small manufacturers in California. He has been very focused on doing something about the lack of skills that are provided by our educational systems.

Schools can’t afford to buy the expensive machines that manufacturers must use to compete with foreign products, so he has established arrangements with schools so that he can train teachers to use the equipment in his factory well enough so that they can develop curriculum to teach G-code and other needed skills.

Gaines also has provided many field trip opportunities for students in middle school through university levels to learn about the opportunities in manufacturing. And he has worked with other manufacturers to help them provide similar support for “local high schools and vocational programs by being their labs.” He showed a list of 41 job positions with Transfer Flow, Inc. Eleven of the jobs can be filled by high school graduates who have had adequate training. Sixteen of the jobs require education to the community college graduation level. This is where the most critical shortages exist.

Fourteen of the job positions require university level graduates.

Unfortunately, current education at all levels is inadequate to meet the needs of manufacturers. We need more employers like Bill Gaines who will take the time to work out better cooperation and understanding between them and educators to help restore American competitiveness in the world economy. And we need teachers and administrators who will do their part. But for decades the students per teacher, counselor and administrator ratios have been the highest in the nation.

In Solano County we have developed some good educational support for the biotechnology industry, but even for them we are not providing enough support in the engineering and technician areas. We need to support manufacturing better. That is where the best paying jobs are. The average worker in manufacturing earns about $77,000 annually compared with $52,000 in the service sectors.

Thanks to Sandy Person and her Solano EDC colleagues for bringing this very important topic to our attention! To learn more, check the video: “Local Educators Visit Transfer Flow – You Tube.”

The author is retired from the U.S. Air Force, lives in Dixon and serves on the Solano County Board of Education.