Nucor steel (copy)

Grants are available to companies, such as the Nucor Steel plant in Norfolk, that partner with local schools in developing educational programs.

Advanced manufacturing in Nebraska offers major economic opportunities for individuals as well as communities. Companies are keen to fill positions, and workers qualified for high-skill positions can find rewarding career opportunities.

Manufacturing employs nearly one in 10 Nebraskans, and the sector has bounced back from the Great Recession, with the largest employment in more than a decade. Gov. Pete Ricketts recently noted various manufacturing expansions across the state. Some examples:

» In Columbus, Becton Dickinson is building a $60 million plastic molding plant to produce vials, syringe caps and other components for the medical sector, building on the company’s substantial investment in Columbus.

» In Scottsbluff, Aulick Industries plans to built a new, 30,000-square-foot building that will boost the company’s truck chassis by 50% and add numerous jobs.

» In David City, Timpte Inc., a trailer manufacturer, is building a new research and development center and increasing capacity at its main factory, adding 30 to 60 new jobs.

» In Holdrege, Allmand Inc. is expanding its current facility, with plans to add about 20 jobs. The company manufactures portable job site equipment such as light towers, generators, compressors and portable lights.

» In Blair, Veramaris’ $200 million plant is the latest addition to the city’s impressive bioscience sector. The plant produces omega-3 acids as nutrition for salmon on fish farms. Nebraska corn provides the sugar used in the production process.

Such examples show the notable variety found in Nebraska’s manufacturing sector, from metal fabrication to bioscience. Manufacturing contributes $13 billion in annual economic output in Nebraska, with exports of $6.48 billion. In fact, during 2010-18 the state’s manufactured goods exports increased by almost 41%.

Last year, pharmaceuticals and medicines provided 11.3% of job growth in Nebraska’s manufacturing sector, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Other significant sources of Nebraska’s manufacturing job growth are medical equipment and supplies, 10.4%; motor vehicles, 7.3%; and motor vehicle parts, 4.1%.

Manufacturing also contributes significantly to Iowa’s economy. In fact, Iowa last year ranked sixth in the nation for one-year job creation in the manufacturing sector, adding 7,800 jobs. Iowa’s top sources of manufacturing job creation during 2018 were aerospace products and parts, 11.2%; machinery for agriculture, construction and mining, 9.7%; and pharmaceuticals and medicine, 7.1%.

Nebraska pursues a wide range of efforts to develop a trained workforce for modern manufacturing. Metropolitan Community College has made major investments in new, top-quality facilities for training in advanced manufacturing and other sectors, working close with private industry on the details. Wayne State College this year opened its Center for Applied Technology. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lance Perez, the engineering dean, is pursuing plans to boost the program’s enrollment substantially.

Career academies across the state link local schools with local companies, offering training opportunities for young people. One of the most ambitious is the Career Pathways Institute in Grand Island. Central Community College is one of the participating organizations. “Math and science continue to be more and more important” for employment in advanced manufacturing, says Doug Pauley, the college’s director of training and development. “Critical thinking is what industry is looking for, so they can adapt and change to the new technology as it comes in. Communications skills continue to be important, to work together as a team.”

Other Nebraska efforts include the Developing Youth Talent Initiative, which provides state grants that help middle school and high school students develop manufacturing skills; the reVISION program, in which school systems, companies and the State Department of Education match instructional programs with local business needs; and German-style apprenticeships with two German companies that have American headquarters in Nebraska — CLAAS of America and Graepel North America.

Through such forward-looking efforts, Nebraska can nurture the next generation of talent for this important economic sector.

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