Editorial: Honoring work and investments in opportunity

by admin on September 1, 2017

  • The Ball Corp. plant on St. Paul’s West Side turns out 2 billion aluminum cans a year.
  • More than 600 McDonald’s restaurants get their sandwich buns from the Baldinger Bakery on the city’s East Side. Dough is mixed in 3,000-pound batches to produce a million and a half buns a day.
  • Last year, Minnesota Wire became the first in the nation to have its lighter-than-copper “carbon nanotube” cables certified for use in deep space. They’re a component of satellites now, and uses could expand to planes and drones.

As “Things We Make,” a Sept. 1 Pioneer Press premium section concluded, there’s a whole lot of “making” going on in St. Paul and the east metro.

That means jobs, jobs, jobs — and an opportunity to reflect this Labor Day weekend on all they mean to families and communities.

Manufacturers provided more than 169,000 jobs in the seven-county metro area in 2016 with an average salary of $74,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

There’s no doubt about it: Manufacturing matters. At $48.2 billion, manufacturing was the largest private-sector contributor to Minnesota’s 2016 gross domestic product, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has reported. Minnesota’s total GDP in 2016 was $335.1 billion.

As board president of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association, Brenda “B.” Kyle is an informed observer. “The good news for the east metro is that manufacturing is strong and growing,” says Kyle, who also is St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. As reported in “Things We Make,” she notes that as overseas labor has become increasingly expensive, companies are seeing the value of “reshoring” to the United States.

There’s optimism in industry. A recent survey of manufacturing executives statewide found that 94 percent are confident about the financial future of their companies. That’s the highest level recorded since the annual State of Manufacturing poll began in 2008. It’s also the fourth consecutive year that confidence has climbed, according to Enterprise Minnesota, a consulting firm and industry advocate.

The challenge? Worker shortages. The percentage of manufacturers having a difficult time finding “qualified workers” has more than doubled since 2011, according to Enterprise Minnesota data. In Greater Minnesota, 75 percent of manufacturers report the problem; in the metro area, the figure is 62 percent.

Attention to the issue in our schools and communities deserves notice, too, this weekend. Among them is St. Paul’s Right Track program, which recently celebrated the contributions of more than 220 interns who worked in businesses, government and nonprofits this summer. It’s an important step in building the workforce on which St. Paul’s future will depend.

The nation has been recognizing the contributions of its workers since 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed legislation that made Labor Day a national holiday.

On these pages, we celebrate the value of jobs and work as a path to a piece of the American Dream, a way out of poverty and a means to confront disparities that’s better than any government program. There’s power in the notion that, with access to opportunity, a fair shake and their own work, people will make their own way. We honor that this weekend.

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