North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle is known nationwide for its stellar academics and as a hub of innovation. Less well-known is its critical role in U.S. modern manufacturing. But with the presence of iconic advanced manufacturing companies and the rapid growth of the industry in the region, it could just as easily be known as the “Modern Manufacturing Triangle.”
The advanced manufacturing firms that call the Research Triangle home are companies whose employees possess advanced skills and whose products are made using cutting-edge technology. They produce, according to the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, medical devices, automotive and aerospace components, equipment for our military and farms and more. Protolabs is among them, housing 77,000 square feet of state-of-the-art 3D printing technology and experts.
This is increasingly the face of modern manufacturing—skilled workers empowered by technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 3D printing or robotics. These technologies not only make it possible to make lifechanging or lifesaving products but they are also driving industry growth in North Carolina and nationwide.
In 2018, manufacturing saw its best year for employment growth since 1997, adding an average of 22,000 jobs per month—bringing the total number of manufacturing workers in the United States to more than 12.8 million. More than 460,000 North Carolinians are employed in manufacturing, representing more than 10 percent of the state’s workforce.
In North Carolina, manufacturing jobs pay on average 58 percent more in wages and benefits than the average non-farm job. And in the Research Triangle specifically, the average annual salary is $86,000.
The good news is manufacturers are hiring—and will continue to do so for years to come. Today, there are 428,000 open manufacturing jobs in the United States. And according to a study from Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute, manufacturers will need to fill 4.6 million jobs in the next decade.
That is one of the reasons that the 2019 NAM State of Manufacturing Tour is in North Carolina this week and visiting Protolabs and other manufacturers to share the promise of a rewarding career in modern manufacturing and to say, “Creators Wanted.”
The Deloitte–Manufacturing Institute study also found that if we do not recruit more Americans actively into manufacturing and educational programs to gain manufacturing skills, 2.4 million of those positions could go unfilled. That would represent 2.4 million lost opportunities—because manufacturing jobs are not just high-paying; they also offer meaningful, collaborative, hands-on work. It is work that means something and makes a difference.
In addition to looking for the next generation of workers, manufacturers are also looking to our elected leaders to ensure America remains a great place to manufacture. The NAM will make this call to action a part of the tour as well. Manufacturers want to see investment in our infrastructure, meaningful immigration reform and expanded trading opportunities—including passage of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement and a trade agreement to hold China accountable.
Manufacturing has been, and will continue to be, the backbone of the American economy. So, growing the manufacturing workforce and strengthening our industry even more is also a matter of keeping our nation strong and secure. It is about upholding the values that make America exceptional—free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity. And it’s about doing what North Carolinians in the Research Triangle do every day: creating the future.
Vicki Holt is president and CEO of Protolabs and serves as an NAM board member and the vice chair of the NAM’s Small and Medium Manufacturers Group. Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the NAM.