Dozens of young Mohonasen Central School District students took time on Manufacturing Day to show off what they’d built and hear encouraging words from educators, politicians and economic developers about the manufacturing sector in the Capital Region.
Nearly 34,000 people now work in manufacturing in the eight-county region, Center For Economic Growth President Andrew Kennedy told them, and there are good wages and diverse opportunities in the field.
It remains an important and growing sector of the economy, he added.
Friday’s event was held in The Center for Advanced Technology, Mohonasen’s new learning facility that offers hands-on and laboratory learning environments for high school, college and adult students in partnership with Capital Region BOCES.
On prominent display were the top entries in the Cardboard Challenge, a competition in which more than 200 Mohonasen students in grades kindergarten through five built projects ranging from fanciful to intricate, mainly with cardboard.
Bradt School second-grader Avery Renkawitz, builder of a miniature New York City skyline, and Pinewood School fifth-grader Connor McCarthy, creator of a highly detailed Yankee Stadium, spoke about their work.
McCarthy said he used math, his favorite subject, to design the model of his favorite team’s home. But the hardest part was getting all the little Lego people into the bleachers, he said.
Mohonasen High School student Dylan Hart spoke about his experiences in the school’s Work-Based Learning Program, in which he’s assembled student desks, fabricated parts for school buses and harvested vegetables.
Returning to her alma mater was 2017 graduate Samantha Petrosino, who completed the BOCES welding program at the technology center. The former cheerleader got her first welding job this summer and now will merge welding with her love of scuba diving to pursue a certificate in underwater welding at a San Diego trade school.
“I’m definitely more aware of what’s around me” in the way of career options, she said, thanks to completing the BOCES training. She said when she’s done with her training she might join the Navy, or become a commercial underwater welder, or pursue something else altogether, and seemed to greatly appreciate all the options available now.
Speaking to an audience of parents, students and educators, she said: “I’m here to break the stereotype.” Not only as a woman in a male-dominated field, she said, but as a 90s-average student with a Regents diploma who enrolled in the BOCES program, which she said is inaccurately perceived as a place for slackers.
The goal of Manufacturing Day is to boost the image of the manufacturing world and debunk the misconceptions that surround it, said Makensie Bullinger, Mohonasen’s academic administrator for science and technology.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, speaking at the event, said manufacturing is no longer dumb, dirty, dark and disappearing.
The Capital Region, he said, is a “glaring” model of the future of manufacturing — clean, high-tech and making a big economic impact.
“Today we celebrate that we are a great region for innovation,” he said.
There is perhaps no other region in the country that is making investments in the sector at the same rate, Tonko said, adding a cautionary note about shifting spending priorities in Washington that could thwart a resurgent manufacturing sector.
Along with the factories and high-tech processes, he said, there is a need for human infrastructure. Production shops, even highly automated ones, need people to run them. The Mohonasen technology center helps address that need, he said.
“Today I’m excited to see what students are doing,” Tonko said.
State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, a homebuilder before he was elected to the state Legislature, said he runs into the human infrastructure gap himself, when he can’t find qualified construction workers.
“We are so fortunate right here,” he said, referring to the facility that helps students learn to use their hands as they use their brains and, sometimes, their backs.
CEG leader Kennedy told the students that what they learn will have local relevance and applications. The Capital Region has among the highest concentrations of research and development workers in the state, a rich manufacturing heritage from the 1800s to the present, and a $75,000 average wage in the manufacturing sector.
“You can do it here,” he said.
Speaking to The Daily Gazette before the event, Kennedy acknowledged that some may be hesitant about a career in manufacturing because of its history of decline in the region, state and nation as a whole.
Crumbling smokestacks and old factory foundations are as much a part of the upstate New York landscape as maple trees.
The leatherworker in Gloversville, the ironworker in Troy, the locomotive painter in Schenectady might well have assumed in 1917 that their factories would still be there in 2017, and of course they would have been wrong.
“Who’d’ve thought the world would change,” Kennedy said. Likewise, there are no guarantees for the next hundred years.
The takeaway is that the skills being taught at places like BOCES and the Center for Advanced Technology are useful now and will be in the future, even if a particular job utilizing them ceases to exist.
“You’re learning a basic skill set that’s going to enable you to be successful in life,” Kennedy said. “You can’t predict what the future will bring. … Having that basic skillset enables you to succeed.”
The state of manufacturing
The Center for Economic Growth, a non-profit Capital Region business and economic development agency, released a report Friday on the state of manufacturing here.
CEG President Andrew Kennedy said the region has reversed the decline of past years with diversification, partnerships and advances in technology. “What we have done in the region is built back up the industry,” he said.
Some highlights of the report:
- The manufacturing workforce in the eight-county region climbed to 33,888 in 2016.
- The largest manufacturing subsectors were chemical, at 4,801 employees; machinery at 4,588; and electronic products at 4,347.
- Leaders in the chemical sector include Regeneron in East Greenbush, SI Group in Niskayuna, Momentive Performance Materials in Waterford and SABIC in Selkirk.
- Over the past 10 years, the chemical subsector has grown by 50.4 percent; the computer and electronic product manufacturing subsector by 201.7 percent; machinery manufacturing by 14.5 percent.
- Other sizeable subsectors included fabricated metal product manufacturing (8 percent), such as Dimension Fabricators in Glenville; paper manufacturing (7 percent), such as Mohawk in Cohoes and Finch Paper in Glens Falls; and food manufacturing (7 percent), such as Bilinski Sausage Manufacturing in Cohoes.
- Manufacturing wages in 2016 totaled $2.53 billion — up 25 percent from 2007 in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars.
- The average wage rose to $74,675 from $64,535 inflation-adjusted dollars — largely driven by an increase in more highly skilled, higher-paying jobs.
- 87.6 percent of manufacturers here had fewer than 50 employees in 2015.
- Saratoga County added 1,397 manufacturing jobs over five years, a 21.7 percent jump, the most in the region.
- Schenectady County had a $91,564 average annual manufacturing wage, third-highest in the state.