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Manufacturing remains strong part of state’s economy

In spite of the substantial impact of the past few years’ downturn, the manufacturing sector still plays a vital role in Mississippi’s economy. The Mississippi Manufacturer’s Association (MMA) lists 2,200 member companies that employ 208,116 people at 3,037 facilities.

“Things have really begun to turn around and we’re seeing more expansions of existing companies, new facilities locating here and more activity in general,” said MMA president Jay Moon. “Manufacturing has always been a huge part of the state’s economy and it has a bright future. Our manufacturers are seeing more demand for their products and the economy is getting stronger.”

While an exact figure is difficult to quantify for manufacturing’s impact on the state’s economy, Moon says the number of jobs, capital investments, state and local taxes and the employee multiplier add up to a substantial factor. Three jobs are created in the economy to support every one direct manufacturing job, the highest multiplier of any sector, he said.

“Manufacturing works hand-in-glove with service and other sectors to support each other,” he added. “We see a lot of relationships. A strong manufacturing sector creates a strong service economy.”

He points out that wage and benefit levels are higher in manufacturing jobs, something that boosts the per capita income and fosters a better quality of life. Then too there are the intangibles that include employees’ and companies’ community involvement.

The state’s key manufacturing locations, according to Moon, are Tupelo, DeSoto County, the Jackson metro area, the Hattiesburg-Laurel area and Vicksburg. Other prime areas are scattered across the state.

In addition to expansions, several new plants will open within the next 12 months. Textron Fastening Systems, a manufacturer of rivets and metal fasteners used in the automobile industry, will open in Washington County and employ 500 people. In DeSoto County, Federal Express will open a product distribution center with about 290 jobs. Using a renovated facility, Faurecia, a French auto parts and accessories manufacturer, will begin operation in Cleveland.

A Eurocopter facility is under construction in Columbus, Northrop Grumman’s Firescout unmanned helicopter plant is underway in Jackson County, and Future Pipe Company breaks ground in Gulfport this month.

“These plants represent very high- tech, high-skilled jobs,” Moon said. “We’ll see those kinds of jobs as an edge to maintaining manufacturing in the U.S.”

The MMA president says the state is fortunate to have a diversified industrial base that includes the manufacturing of processed foods and lumber, big wood products such as paper and furniture, electronics, metal fabrication, ranges, chemical polymers and plastics, warships and helicopters. He says the making of automobile parts is growing tremendously and will be significant in the future.

“We have a real variety of really high-value products and that will remain big as we are going through changes in manufacturing,” he said. “Two-thirds of all research is done by manufacturers and that makes us more competitive in a global economy.”

Although the United States is moving to a service economy, the country has always had a strong manufacturing base and he thinks that will continue. “The impact is so far reaching,” Moon said. “Some traditional industries will continue to migrate, but the world class products and high tech, things that have to be close to end users and large, bulky products will all stay.”

Assets Mississippi offers to potential manufacturers include:

• Outstanding workforce

• Great capabilities for training

• Location surrounded by water (Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico)

• Highways, ports and railroads that all work together to get products to world markets

• Pro business environment that extends from the governor and Legislature to mayors and county boards of supervisors.

“Existing businesses are our best calling cards,” Moon said. “They put forth a good image of our state and potential businesses always want to talk to those that are already here.”

“We’re seeing a slowdown in closings and seeing a turnaround as the economy strengthens,” Moon said. “If you talk to people in other states, they had similar losses if not more.”

From January through August, 35 new facilities have opened, creating 2,500 new jobs, and 53 facilities have expanded with another 2,540 new jobs. That’s a total of 88 facilities and 5,040 jobs.

Moon says Mississippi, a right-to-work state, has never been a union stronghold. Union membership is less than 5% of workers if public school teachers are excluded from the count. Attempts to organize unions in the state’s new auto industry have failed.

The MMA works closely with the National Association of Manufacturers and with the state Legislature to make sure things are being done to support manufacturing. “We were involved with the civil justice reform, and that has had a positive effect on industrial expansions and locations here,” Moon said. “We have some of the most progressive reforms anywhere.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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