There is a sense of uncertainty in the economy. The COVID-19 crisis has brought the global economy to a near stand-still. It is reasonable to ask where to go from here. How do we rebuild our economy so that we not only prosper but also remain resilient when the next crisis comes?

Part of the answer is advanced manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing refers to the use of innovative technology to improve production. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) refers to advanced manufacturing as “a systems-based approach to maximizing efficiency and precision in manufacturing, using technology such as sensors, automation, and wireless communications.” The processes involved in advanced manufacturing require highly skilled workers, which means good paying jobs.

Policymakers have seen the value in advanced manufacturing. The governor’s office and the NJEDA have made advanced manufacturing a “focus sector” for economic development. They are making investments to support sector growth.

Atlantic County is uniquely positioned to benefit from advanced manufacturing. Atlantic County has a long tradition of manufacturing from shoes and clothing factories in Hammonton in the early 20th century to boat builders along the eastern Mullica River and Great Bay. Additionally, advanced manufacturing compliments current initiatives to include the aviation cluster.

For these reasons, prior to the COVID crisis, the Atlantic County Economic Alliance (ACEA) and the Atlantic County Workforce Development Board (WDB) decided to partner to create the Atlantic County Manufacturing and Engineering Forum.

The purpose of this forum is to bring together manufacturing firms and engineering firms that compliment manufacturing, into a collaborative setting. We will promote solutions that focus on fulfilling workforce needs, providing avenues for financing, developing public policy recommendations, and sharing best practices.

While Atlantic County does not have especially large manufacturing and engineering firms, it does have a large quantity of small- to medium-sized firms. If these firms work together in aggregate, they can more effectively take advantage of federal and state resources.

The focus on workforce development is of particular interest. It ensures that as manufacturing and engineering industries grow, the citizens of Atlantic County will have the skill sets to benefit from the high paying jobs. The WDB is working to assist firms in developing on-the-job training programs to allow workers to learn while they work. These programs are a benefit to displaced workers and those seeking a career change.

The ACEA continues to work with area high schools and colleges to ensure there is pipeline of skilled workers into the future so workers are not only attaining good jobs, but are building sustainable careers. This includes exploring opportunities for incumbent workers and community college paths to four-year engineering degrees.

We will make it through the COVID crisis. Right now, the focus is rightly on keeping people healthy. But be assured that the ACEA and WDB remain dedicated to helping Atlantic County emerge stronger and more prosperous.

If you or your organization has an interest in manufacturing, and would like to join the Manufacturing and Engineering Forum, please visit the ACEA website (www.aceanj.com) for more information.

Joe Ingemi, of Hammonton, is secretary of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance.

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