A report card on the state of manufacturing in Mississippi includes the following facts, according to Jay Moon, executive director of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association: Manufacturing is holding steady with 12 percent of the state’s workforce employed in that sector. For every direct job in manufacturing, there are another two or three jobs that support it. Mississippi’s manufacturing is considered advanced manufacturing with products ranging from processed foods, lumber, furniture and automobiles to ship building, with the alternative energy field growing. Skilled workers to fill these jobs are a challenge.
“We have about 2,200 members and most of them seem to be doing better as the economy improves,” Moon said. “During the recession there were quite a few layoffs because consumer demand for products was down. Some of the companies put employees on part time or reduced time and now they’re re-hiring those employees. All in all, we’re better off than a lot of other states.”
In spite of the recession, Moon says a number of manufacturers have done very well in the past two years. In Northeast Mississippi, the Toyota plant opened doors for workers and automotive suppliers. GE is developing a plant in the Ellisville area to join its Senatobia plant. “Just Toyota by itself brought in more than 2,000 jobs in addition to jobs with suppliers. That’s pretty substantial,” he said. “In the alternative energy sector, Stion has a plant that makes solar panels. KiOR makes oil through a proprietary system using bio waste and will open at least three facilities in the state. We’re moving strongly into alternative energy.”
The advanced manufacturing that Mississippi has now requires workers with more training and a different type of skill sets. MMA and its members work with community colleges and universities to provide this work force. “Our broad range of manufacturers is challenging but it’s also a good thing,” Moon said. “We provide training programs for our members; some funded through the private sector. We have programs that are continuing and improving.”
A University of Southern Mississippi College of Business professor agrees that proper workforce training is important for manufacturing in Mississippi and the country. “I don’t think the state supports education enough regarding training people to do these jobs,” said Steve Jackson, Ph.D., of USM’s Gulf Park Campus. “American workers when properly trained are hard workers and efficient.”
Jackson, a CPA, teaches cost and management accounting which examines the cost of manufacturing products. He authored a textbook on this subject and pays attention to what’s going on in the world of manufacturing. “Mississippi has lost textile jobs. Hardly any clothes are made in this country now. These jobs go overseas because labor is cheaper and these are jobs that can be learned quickly. We are in a global economy for sure, and that’s not going to change.”
If you look back to the 1980s, Moon points out, manufacturing represented 24 percent of the workforce in Mississippi. “Some companies have closed; some have relocated to China and other places. The textile industry is all but gone,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to attract new businesses with good pay and benefits for employees.”
These jobs, he stressed again, require a higher skill level. “That’s probably our number one issue – producing a skilled workforce for the 21st Century,” he said. “We’re not unique in that; other states have this challenge, too.”
The MMA is optimistic that the Mississippi Legislature will pass a major inventory tax reform bill that will help businesses of all sizes. “We’re also supporting a workers’ compensation bill that does a lot of beneficial things that are important and will have a big impact on businesses,” Moon said.
He says the organization’s members are concerned about the costs of complying with federal environmental and other regulations. “Just about anything going on in Washington has an impact in our state,” he said. “We work closely with our congressional delegation to make sure they understand what our issues are.”
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