State of Manufacturing in Philadelphia

By Bobby Henon

At this critical time in Philadelphia's history, it is imperative that we commit to supporting manufacturing as a way to create family-sustaining jobs, provide engaging opportunities for young people entering the workforce, and ensure that our city has the capability to compete on the global stage.

Manufacturing is personal to me. My father moved from one manufacturing job to another in order to provide for me and my siblings. All the companies he worked for have since closed their doors, leaving hundreds of unemployed workers behind.

So I was eager to work with Mayor Nutter on a task force that would study the status of the manufacturing industry and come up with a comprehensive set of recommendations to guide us into the future.

After spending the year working with dozens of CEOs from manufacturers from across the region, I have a greater sense of the challenges and opportunities for the sector.

On Thursday, my task-force co-chairs and I will present the mayor with our final report, an action plan for building a more robust manufacturing sector in Philadelphia and the region.

The bottom line is simple: Manufacturing matters to thousands of families across the region. It matters to our city and our country.

The industry supports more than 12 million jobs in the United States - nearly 10 percent of the American workforce - and 23,000 of those jobs are in Philadelphia. For every dollar spent in manufacturing, $1.48 is returned to the U.S. economy.

Manufacturing isn't the gritty, smog-producing work that some imagine. Today's manufacturers - including those in our region - are high-tech innovators. They make everything from church robes to beer to ships to ball bearings. We need to do a better job of telling this story.

We also need to inspire young people and get them excited about manufacturing careers. By showing kids, parents, and schools that manufacturing careers are diverse, well-paying, and mostly high-tech, we can open new doors of opportunity for them - and supply a homegrown workforce.

Of course, we must also prepare our kids for work. Our kids are competing in a global economy, and they need the education and skill set to prepare for the evolving and highly technical manufacturing jobs of the future. By focusing on STEM subjects in school (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), we can make an important early investment in preparing students for their future.

Philadelphia is blessed with many inherent advantages for manufacturers: prime location, natural resources, and extensive transportation systems.

To keep this edge, we must fight for investment in transportation and energy infrastructure, including the maintenance and development of our ports, bridges and roadways, surface-transit systems, and water and wastewater systems. We must also modernize our electrical grid, develop natural-gas resources, and encourage private-sector investment in high-speed communications and broadband infrastructure. We can't tinker around the edges. We need to go all in, because infrastructure supports every industry and taxpayer - and is especially critical to manufacturers.

Here's just one example:

With the Panama Canal expansion set for completion in 2015, only two of 15 East Coast ports are equipped to handle the megatankers that will move through the widened canal - and neither is in Philadelphia. However, according to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, the deepening of the Delaware shipping channel that is underway will allow our ports to handle 98 percent of all oceangoing ships. In addition, Packer Marine Terminal's location south of the Walt Whitman Bridge means taller ships can offload in Philadelphia, giving us an advantage over the Port of New York and New Jersey, where the Bayonne Bridge will have to be raised in order to handle these taller vessels.

Finally, we need to show our commitment to manufacturers by centralizing, streamlining, and coordinating resources from all levels of government in one Philadelphia location.

A new office of manufacturing policy can help emerging and established manufacturing firms navigate regulations, identify training and funding opportunities, and capitalize on resources to help manufacturers locate here, grow here, and stay here.

Manufacturing matters, and this report is just the beginning. I plan to work hard in the weeks, months, and years ahead to implement the task force's recommendations so we can keep our factory doors open, and open new ones. Together, we can and will make it in Philadelphia.

Bobby Henon is a Councilman representing Philadelphia's 6th District. Original story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.