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Heed Report's Call to Foster Manufacturing
State Must Invest More, Encourage Collaboration

Editorial

Des Moines Register

November 17, 2005


 
Manufacturing brings six times more wealth to Iowa than agriculture does. Iowa is a manufacturing state. Manufacturing is the single-largest component of the state's economy, and Iowa is among the most manufacturing-dependent states in the nation.
Note: The Iowa Department of Economic Development report to which the editorial refers, "Iowa Life Changing," can be found at http://www.iowalifechanging.com.

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]



Manufacturing doesn't get enough respect. At least, it doesn't get the attention it deserves as a fundamental driver of the Iowa economy.

A new report by the Battelle Memorial Institute will have been worthwhile if it does nothing more than raise Iowans' awareness of the urgency of doing more to foster manufacturing.

Battelle, an international consulting group based in Columbus, Ohio, was hired by the Iowa Department of Economic Development to develop strategic plans for growth in key sectors. Last year, it issued a report on biotechnology. This week, it completed reports on information technology and advanced manufacturing.

It is the manufacturing report that Iowa public officials and business leaders should take most to heart, because manufacturing has been a neglected child. There is no statewide manufacturing advocacy group in Iowa, little synergistic networking among Iowa manufacturers and little sense of connection between manufacturers and the state universities. Manufacturers told Battelle they believe Iowa public policies are shaped to benefit agriculture, not manufacturing.

That's so even though manufacturing brings six times more wealth to Iowa than agriculture does. Iowa is a manufacturing state. Manufacturing is the single-largest component of the state's economy, and Iowa is among the most manufacturing-dependent states in the nation.

The decline in manufacturing in Iowa has been less severe than in the nation as a whole, though. The Battelle report points the way for the state to strengthen its base in advanced manufacturing, which features rapid innovation, requires the most highly educated workers, pays the highest wages and has the brightest future.

The report makes specific recommendations for action. Among the more promising: appointing a manufacturing advocate in the governor's office; helping Iowa manufacturers cooperate to develop better supply chains; establishing a Lean Manufacturing Institute for research and information sharing; and providing matching grants for product development.

The specifics aside, the report paints a big picture of how Iowa can increase the number of advanced-manufacturing enterprises. Among the most important elements are a strong education system and a well-educated workforce drawn to Iowa by a family-friendly quality of life.

That's why much of the report's recommended $160 million, 10-year price tag for manufacturing enhancement (and another $172 million for information technology) includes significant investments in community colleges and K-12 education. Low-wage manufacturing will continue to flee offshore. But advanced manufacturing can continue to grow in places like Iowa if companies retain their edge in innovation, the report argues. That means being the first with new products and industrial processes. It depends on education not only of researchers and engineers but also of workers.

The report points out that Iowa's workforce is one of its greatest manufacturing assets, but also one of the greatest threats to future growth. Iowa's highly skilled workers are aging, and critical shortages of educated workers loom. That's why the report recommends a "significant long-term campaign" to attract people willing to become manufacturing employees in Iowa. Quality of life is a key to that, along with inviting more diversity.

Excellence in education, an enviable quality of life those are the basics of economic growth in any arena, but especially in advanced manufacturing, an absolutely critical component for Iowa.