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Panelists discuss the future of American manufacturing during Wednesday’s 7th Annual Manufacturing Summit at MSU. Pictured, from left to right, are Three Rivers Planning & Development Programs Coordinator Gary Golden, Ingalls Shipbuilding Vice President of Human Resources and Administration Edmond E. Hughes, Hunter Engineering Company Human Resources Manager Ken Lowery, and Mississippi Department of Education Career and Technical Education Director Mike Mulvihill. (Photo by Beth Wynn)

MSU summit looks to the future of manufacturing

Mississippi State University’s 7th Annual Manufacturing Summit showcased ways teamwork can help keep Mississippi and the U.S. competitive in the manufacturing industry in the 21st century.

Wednesday’s [March 22] summit on “The Future of American Manufacturing” brought together leaders in industry and economic development at MSU’s Franklin Center for Furniture Manufacturing and Management.

The event was hosted by MSU’s Franklin Furniture Institute and is sponsored by the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, Mississippi Development Authority, Northeast Mississippi Industrial Development Association, and MSU’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Extension Service and College of Forest Resources. Bill Martin, Franklin Furniture Institute director, emphasized the importance of being prepared for the manufacturing industry to grow as jobs come back to the U.S.

“It takes the whole infrastructure Mississippi has on workforce development,” Martin said. “It takes the university system, the community college system. It takes the Mississippi Department of Education and then it takes the manufacturing sector to embrace that collaborative effort. We need to do more and more training on life skills – that’s one of the biggest problems we have right now. This summit is an educational experience for the manufacturers and the economic developers. We are finding ways to get ready for the future of manufacturing.”

Topics discussed during Wednesday’s summit included an overview of what to expect in revised regulations under new federal leadership, truths and misconceptions on millennial employees, transportation and economic development implications of bringing back jobs, and ways to prepare Mississippi’s workforce to meet manufacturing needs.

Among the greatest needs of the manufacturing sector is a skilled workforce, BlueTre Strategies, LLC Founder and CEO Jack McDougle said during a panel presentation. He referenced studies that show approximately 2 million American manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled over the next decade.

“If we don’t fix this, we will not get the resurgence we are hoping for,” McDougle said.

Industry representatives said being proactive and establishing relationships with students at the high school and community college level have helped meet their workforce needs. Edmond E. Hughes, vice president of Human Resources and Administration for Ingalls Shipbuilding, discussed collaborations with the Mississippi Department of Education, local high schools and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for workforce training.

“We believe we can build that workforce of the future,” Hughes said.

Mike Mulvihill, who leads MDE’s career and technical education efforts, said vocational programs have evolved to become high-tech and more relevant to the industries present in specific areas of the state.

“America’s big advantage is creativity,” Mulvihill said. “We’re looking at the maker space movement, we’re creating more pathways and we want real-world experiences for students. We’re changing our format so it’s not one size fits all.”

The summit also featured a presentation from Garrett McInnis, vice president of development for the Mississippi Energy Institute, on his organization’s effort to enhance perceptions of manufacturing and energy jobs among middle and high school students. Following a successful marketing campaign in the Gulf Coast and Jackson metro areas, MEI is working with MSU researchers to measure the impact of the campaign’s efforts.

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