21 Manufacturing Day events planned in Arkansas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 212 views 

Friday (Oct. 3) marks National Manufacturing Day and events happening across the region will mark the event in an industry that has seen significant declines both nationally and in Arkansas in the last decade.

The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,000 in August, down from 18,200 in July, and down from 18,400 August 2013. Sector employment is down almost 37% from a decade ago when August 2004 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 28,400. Also, the annual average monthly employment in manufacturing has fallen from 28,900 in 2005, 19,200 in 2012, and to 18,300 in 2013.

The Northwest Arkansas manufacturing sector employed an estimated 26,200 in August, down from 26,300 July, and down from the 26,500 during August 2013. Sector employment is down 21.3% from more than a decade ago when August 2004 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 33,300.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas during August totaled 155,600, unchanged compared to July and above the 151,900 in August 2013. Employment in the manufacturing sector fell in 2013 to levels not seen since early 1968. Peak employment in the sector was 247,300 in February 1995.

In spite of the significant drops in manufacturing employment in the Fort Smith region, it is still among the area's largest employment sectors and Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Allen said that was why Manufacturing Day is being celebrated locally.

"Manufacturing is part and parcel of Fort Smith's DNA," Allen said. "The chance to recognize the importance of this national focus is exciting. Particularly when you realize Fort Smith's history and future when it comes to manufacturing."

And while the industry has seen major declines nationally and locally in the last decade, manufacturing could see an upswing should a planned investment of $250 billion by Wal-Mart in products made in the United States over the next decade pan out.

“We will continue to lead on U.S. manufacturing. … We have drawn a deeper understanding of the challenges that stand in the way from the work already done,” Michelle Gloeckler, Walmart’s executive president of consumables and U.S. manufacturing, said in August.

To start off Friday's events, the Fort Smith chamber's monthly First Friday breakfast will take place at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's student center featuring former Caterpillar executive John Harrison, who is currently with the company MyVIP2. His speech will focus on "how U.S. manufacturing facilities can better compete globally and also how to be the place to work," according to a Chamber press release.

Even as manufacturing employment has shrunk both locally and nationally during the last decade, the demand for highly skilled employees in manufacturing facilities has increased.

To highlight the need for skilled laborers, KMF Metal Fabrication Vice President Christy Koprovic said her Fort Smith facility would host a tour of students Friday from Darby Junior High to show that even in spite of the loss of manufacturing jobs nationally, local companies like KMF still need the skilled workforce. She said the hope to is change negative perceptions about manufacturing.

"KMF is seeking to reverse that trend by bringing in students throughout the school year to get them interested in manufacturing, as well as encourage them to pursue and excel in math and science," she said. "Darby students will be our second group of students this year who will visit the facility."

During the tour, she said KMF staff "will be giving demonstrations" of the various work done at the facility. The tour for students begins at 9 a.m. and lasts one hour, Koprovic said.

Further highlighting the need for skilled labor, UAFS will host tours of its new robotics lab at the Baldor Technology Center on the university campus Friday at 10:30 a.m.

A new certificate program in robotics was introduced at UAFS this year, with Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran noting at the time that 21 different companies in the Fort Smith region use robots of some sort in manufacturing processes in spite of the fact that there is not a single trained technician in the state. In launching the new certificate program, Beran said he was able to secure $300,000 from Gov. Mike Beebe to help launch the program, as well as receiving a donation of equipment from Baldor.

And Baldor is another Fort Smith company taking part in Manufacturing Day events, opening its doors to the public on Thursday (Oct. 2) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for facility tours.

"Through this year's event we will share best practices with other local manufacturers, educate the community on the impact manufacturing has on the regional economy, and raise awareness of the career opportunities manufacturing provides," the company said in its event listing on the National Manufacturing Day website.

Springdale-based SynergyTech is holding an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 23.

“SynergyTech plans to increase public awareness of manufacturer’s contributions to our economy, and the technology-driven, well-paying careers our manufacturers have to offer,” noted the Manufacturing Day website page for SynergyTech.

Link here for a list of the 21 Manufacturing Day events planned in the state of Arkansas.