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October is Manufacturing Month

U.S. Navy
Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Brandon Weddel operates a lathe while manufacturing a bolt aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge in 2018.

October is Manufacturing Month in Florida and nationwide, aimed at the next generation of the workforce that makes stuff.

Besides inspiring those in the various industries, the month also seeks to educate the public at large on the importance of manufacturers’ roles in daily lives — along with the growing skill-shortage despite the high volume of job openings in the sector.

“We have over 7,000 employees that are actually performing jobs here in the Pensacola area,” said Jeff Dyer, director of Workforce Innovation at Florida West, the region’s economic development agency.

“It’s actually one of our greater revenue-producing [sic], because manufacturing for us, of course, is revenue that’s services and products that are being sold outside the area, so it brings revenue into the area,” he said. “And currently, those wages are significantly above-average of most of most of our industries in town.”

While many hear “Pensacola” and think hospitality and other related companies that cater to vacationers, spring breakers, and other visitors, Dyer says manufacturing firms also dot the landscape.

“We have Ascend Performance Products, which has been here for some time; Cerex Corporation, which is a nylon-producing company,” said Dyer. “Armstrong Industries, West Fraser, which produces some of our lumber products. "You name it, we’ve pretty much got it in Pensacola as far as producing those goods.”

And there’s also General Electric Wind Energy where turbines are manufactured just off Scenic Highway.

“It’s an honor to lead a team of approximately 600 employees, across 3 shifts, turning out machine heads, hubs, and drive trains of differing model types,” said Executive Manager Mo Mattocks, in a video produced by GE.

“GE Pensacola is a benchmark operation, and that credit goes to the men and women of GE Pensacola, who define success by their flexibility, teamwork, transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement,” said Mattocks in the video.

It ends with a pitch to qualified people to consider applying for a job there.

“If you’re looking to see a plant pushing to get better through lean and continuous improvement; if you’re looking to contribute to the future of clean energy, and you’re looking to have fun with great people, look no more,” Mattocks narrated. “Welcome to GE Pensacola.”

With firms such as GE and ST Engineering firmly entrenched among local industries, Jeff Dyer at Florida West says work continues on luring “multiple projects” to the western Panhandle.

“Some of them are in so many different stages, from very beginning talks to things happening [in the] future; but it’s definitely growing,” Dyer said. “Not only in manufacturing, but a lot of industries are looking to the Panhandle area. So definitely a bright future for manufacturing in our area.”

As with other walks of life, the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the manufacturing sector nationwide. That includes what’s being called “the Great Resignation” -- employees voluntarily leaving their jobs, from last spring to the present, in response to the pandemic.

Silal Neely at Harvard Business School has been studying the phenomenon, and recently appeared on the PBS News Hour.

“We cannot underestimate the extent to which people have experienced such stress and a ton of burnout,” said Neely. “That is also driving their interests to say, ‘I don’t want this lifestyle as it is – I want to change it.’”

The Manufacturing Institute is behind the October designation. Their priorities for 2021 are: changing the perception of careers in manufacturing; promoting education and job training policies, and the ultimate goal — helping to build a steady pipeline of workers to support local manufacturers in the coming decades.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.