MONTPELIER — Leaders in manufacturing say the nation and the state don’t need more regulations, but better regulations.
Approximately 100 people turned out Thursday for a conference hosted by Associated Industries of Vermont that looked at national and state trends in the manufacturing industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities the industry is facing.
“As you know all too well, manufacturing here in Vermont and across the country has its strengths, but there is still so much more to be done,” said Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated industries of Vermont.
The conference included remarks from Ned Monroe, senior vice-president of external affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers, who offered a big-picture perspective on the state of the industry in the United States and in Vermont.
According to Monroe, nationally, manufacturing comprises 12.5 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Vermont, approximately 31,700 people — or 10.4 percent of the workforce — are employed in the manufacturing sector, earning an average salary of $69,000 a year.
Monroe later clarified that this figure was not the average salary of a person working on an assembly line, but also included professions related to manufacturing, such as engineers and electricians.
Monroe said that between excessive regulation and having the highest corporate income taxes in the world, manufacturing in the United States is 20 percent more expensive than anywhere else.
“They can’t work in a total fog as to how they will be taxed and regulated,” said Monroe of the uncertainty faced by manufacturers. “We all want clean air and clean water and protect the beauty of the environment, but we don’t need new regulations. What we need are better regulations, because what we have now create barriers and harm global competitiveness.”
Janette Bombardier, Vermont senior location executive for IBM, echoed Monroe’s thoughts, especially when it comes to regulations created on the state level.
“There’s no need for Vermont to recreate regulations at the state level. There are plenty of federal laws already,” Bombardier said. “When you create new regulations at the state level, you create confusion.”
Bombardier also addressed another barrier to manufacturing in Vermont: the lack of skilled workers.
“We continue to have openings because we can’t find enough people,” said Bombardier, who said the starting salary at GLOBALFOUNDRIES in Essex for a person with a two-year degree is $44,000, plus benefits. “That’s a pretty good job for a 20-year-old who’s just starting out.”
According to Monroe, at the national level, 80 percent of manufacturers report that they struggle to find skilled workers.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said the expansion of manufacturing jobs in Vermont is a key component to retaining young, employed tax payers, many of whom have left the state in recent years.
“That’s the working class,” Scott said. “We’ve come to the end of the road in terms of how much can tax Vermonters.”
Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, who serves on the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, said the current economic climate in Vermont offers challenges and opportunities.
“We do have some great manufacturing companies, environmental tech companies and biotech companies. We’re talking about these clean, green manufacturing jobs and they’re good jobs,” Scheuermann said. “We need to sell ourselves and we need to have a product to sell so we can show people that this is a state where things can happen.”
“The biggest takeaway for me is, we talk about not being able to keep our children in the state, but if we’re not educating them enough to take the jobs that are available, then we’re never going to be successful,” said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland.
“Economic development of jobs is a key issue, and if we can’t develop jobs, we’ll lose parents and children,” said Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Montpelier. “We’ll lose a population we can’t afford to lose. We have to be competitive.”
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