Report: Manufacturing surging for eco devo

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 07:21 AM

Manufacturing can be a strong future economic development driver for rural counties in North Carolina.

That's according to a report issued by the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center on Monday.

The report — which was a yearlong study of manufacturing in the state — indicated that manufacturing saw its first net increase of jobs in 16 years. The report also said that the state needs a manufacturing council to "capitalize" on the momentum of the job growth.

In Rutherford County, the Economic Development Commission (EDC) is in the midst of conducting a target market study to indicate potential sectors of which the county can use its current infrastructure and workforce to recruit.

EDC Executive Director Matt Blackwell said that manufacturing is part of the county's economic development future.

"We were a manufacturing community, historically and we will be one moving forward," Blackwell said. "However, we have to make some changes and we are going to have to have some training to secure these advanced manufacturing opportunities moving forward."

The average salary for workers in Rutherford County is just over $30,000. The report indicated that some of the emerging manufacturing sectors — such as aviation, breweries, household appliances, medical supplies and packaging foods — bring in an average salary of closer to $40,000 and above.

Blackwell said that, with higher skilled positions, there is a need for a more educated workforce. That is a priority of the county's target market study — to see if training is available and in what fields it can be available in.

"We have to continue to explore those kinds of trades for our workforce," Blackwell said. "These companies want the workforce already in place."

The report also indicated that some of the manufacturing fields that North Carolina and Rutherford County were strong in are on the decline. Fields such as furniture, textiles, plastics and logging were labeled as "at-risk."

The county has already made strides in some of the emerging fields such as food packaging with Valley Fine Foods locating their East Coast operations in Forest City. Hiring for that facility is expected to start this year. In addition, the county already has a Blue Ridge Distilling Company, a brewery located in Golden Valley. Blackwell said that the county can capitalize on other "emerging" fields with metalwork manufacturing to augment specific industries.

While overall manufacturing has suffered job losses over the last two decades, the report said it remains one of the top contributor to the state's gross domestic product and "84 percent of state exports."

Billy Ray Hall, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, said that manufacturing can still be a vital economic development driver for rural counties in the state.

"But we can't sit back and wait for it to happen," Hall said. "The state's business and political leaders must work together to ensure that we have in place the programs and policies that will strengthen this important sector."

As for Rutherford County, the target market study is due out in the near future and should point the county in a direction to recruit specific industry.

"We want to look at who we have the best opportunity of recruiting," Blackwell said. "We have to refocus and retrain our workforce for the opportunities of the future."