This week, state leaders are wrapping up Manufacturing Month, a celebration of the companies that make up Nebraska’s second-largest industry.
The University of Nebraska is proud to be a partner in growing manufacturing in our state. What’s more, I’m excited about our opportunities to join with colleagues in business, education and government to continue to strengthen an industry that will be vital to Nebraska’s future competitiveness.
One of the University’s highest priorities is helping to build a skilled workforce and vibrant economy for Nebraska. Manufacturing is a key part of that growth strategy. Consider that the overwhelming majority of manufacturing executives already agree that the industry faces a critical talent shortage – with recruitment of engineers, scientists and researchers taking by far longest time.
And the challenge is growing. By 2025, some 2 million manufacturing jobs are projected to go unfilled because of a skills gap across the country. The consequences for economic growth are significant: Manufacturing CEOs say the talent shortage will impact their ability to implement new technologies, increase productivity and serve their customers effectively.
The University of Nebraska – home to programs in engineering, accounting, business, industrial technology and distribution and other areas across our campuses – has an opportunity and a responsibility and to help fill the workforce gap. With technology increasingly driving economic growth, the University’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, along with dozens of outstanding programs offered by our community college partners, will be particularly important to growing 21st-century manufacturing. That’s why the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska at Kearney are all designated as education partners of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Manufacturing Advisory Council.
The University also provides direct support to manufacturing companies across the state, contributing to job growth and retention of talented workers in our communities. We’re proud that UNL’s Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources serves as the headquarters for the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which offers consulting and training to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the state’s small- to medium-sized manufacturers.
The partnership has yielded success stories across Nebraska. Purina Animal Nutrition LLC in Fremont, specializing in the production of mineral premix and tubs of nutrient-supplemented molasses for animal feed markets, was working to improve sustainability and lower costs by reducing wastewater demands on the city. The Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership and UNL College of Engineering placed an engineering student at the Purina site to assess wastewater generation. The resulting recommendations have saved Purina tens of thousands of dollars annually through reduced wastewater contaminates, decreased freshwater usage, lowered electrical usage and reduced salt usage.
In 2017 alone, the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership engaged 250-plus clients, resulting in $2.2 million in new and retained sales and $2.6 million in cost savings.
At UNO, the Nebraska Business Development Center provides consulting services to entrepreneurs and businesses, including manufacturers. NBDC’s most recent Manufacturer of the Year, Exmark Manufacturing in Beatrice, has been an NBDC client since 2014 and is a market leader in turf care equipment manufacturing. The company has given back significantly to the Beatrice community, not just with job growth but through charitable donations and employee volunteerism. And there are many more success stories like Exmark.
Today manufacturing employs 97,000 Nebraskans. We have the potential to grow that figure by expanding opportunities for highly skilled workers who will drive Nebraska’s economy forward. Together with our partners, the University of Nebraska will play an important role in building the manufacturing economy of the future.
Hank M. Bounds, Ph.D.
President, University of Nebraska