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U.S. manufacturing picks up the pace

December 3, 2013

According to an index released yesterday by the Institute of Supply Chain Management, the U.S. manufacturing industry hit a two-year high in November. Activity levels reached 57.3 percent - the highest index since April 2011.

Advanced manufacturing has never slipped in importance in the Hawkeye State - even during the tough times. When economists and historians look back at the key drivers that helped the U.S. climb out of the recession, manufacturing will be part of that story.

The U.S. has experienced a slight rebound in manufacturing jobs — and major companies are once again seeing the value in building products in the U.S.  While many agree that the pace isn’t fast enough, there are a few states and companies pulling its weight to grow the U.S. manufacturing industry. The innovation, collaboration and workforce training in Iowa is helping companies outpace the nation's growth percentage, increasing the state's manufacturing industry by almost 25 percent and contributing $25 billion to its economy. Manufacturing is actually larger than our agriculture industry.

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For example, Emerson Process Management, maker of the Fisher Technology brand of industrial, high-pressure automation valves and regulations systems, employs more than 1,200 at its global headquarters in Marshalltown. Its Iowa R&D center is expanding to apply the company’s innovation processes to the growing 3D printing field.

Employee training plays a huge role in the macro success of micro-plastics manufacturer, Accumold, based in Ankeny. From modest beginnings in a rented garage, Roger Hargens, president and CEO, now runs a 180-person shop that exports nearly 70 percent of its custom micro products for use in cellphones, medical devices and connectors.

Accumold has a strong training partnership with Des Moines Area Community College and offers full-ride scholarships each year for students in the tool and die, robotics and automation programs, with an added-bonus of a possible full-time position after graduation.

There’s no question that today’s advanced manufacturing industry is more brain than brawn. Rockwell Collins, based in Cedar Rapids, develops navigation systems and flight deck equipment among, other technology for the aviation and defense markets. A majority of their “assembly line” employees are in the R&D departments and hold engineering and other high-tech degrees. And its internship program is highly competitive. Thankfully more than 1,500 engineers graduate from Iowa's state universities each year to maintain those high levels of research and development.

The right tax structure and business climate, expanded R&D labs and training partnerships with local educational institutions is keeping Iowa's companies ahead of the curve. Investing in technology and employee education are the keys to strengthening U.S. manufacturing.

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