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Commentary: Small manufacturers pack big punch

By Bob Kill, president and CEO, Enterprise Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

When most Minnesotans think about manufacturing, they likely visualize big companies like Polaris or 3M. These are great companies, to be sure, but they represent only a tiny fraction of Minnesota's manufacturers. The vast majority are small and medium-size businesses. Consider this: According to Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), more than 8,000 manufacturing companies make their corporate homes in Minnesota, and only 22 of them employ more than 1,000 people. More than half employ fewer than 20 people. Plus, only 44 percent are located within the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. Smaller manufacturers play a vital role in West Central Minnesota where they invariably serve as the economic backbone of local communities.

Here are some illuminating facts about manufacturing in the nine counties in the West Central Initiative region (Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin):

• More than 12,000 people in West Central Minnesota work in manufacturing, accounting for 17 percent of all private sector jobs in the region.

• Each manufacturing job supports 1.9 jobs in other sectors of the economy, like jobs in sales, marketing, shipping, professional services, printing, etc.

• Wages in manufacturing make up 22 percent of all private sector wages paid in West Central Minnesota.

• Manufacturing in West Central Minnesota pays an average wage that is 18 percent higher than the average wage for all industries in the region.

These statistics tell a clear story about the importance of manufacturers to towns and cities across West Central Minnesota. Companies like Alexandria Industries in Alexandria, ByteSpeed Computers in Moorhead, ShoreMaster in Fergus Falls, Fast Global Solutions in Glenwood, Voyager Industries in Brandon, LakeShirts in Detroit Lakes, and others are integral to the health and success of their communities and to the region as a whole.

We at Enterprise Minnesota aim to serve as a voice for small and medium manufacturing companies, which is why each year we conduct The State of Manufacturing survey. This survey reveals the opinions and perceptions of 400 Minnesota manufacturing executives and has become the go-to resource for policy-makers, journalists and other business leaders who want to know what manufacturers think about the economy and other major issues impacting their businesses. In addition to the statistical survey, we conduct focus groups with manufacturers and students all across the state in order to dive deeper into the issues impacting this critical industry. These focus groups provide not only valuable, qualitative data, but also offer manufacturers the unique chance to talk openly with other leaders in their industry and to gain better insights into the common challenges and opportunities they all face.

This March, we conducted focus groups with manufacturing executives in Alexandria and Detroit Lakes, and we spoke with students at Alexandria Technical and Community College about their aspirations to work in manufacturing as their career choice. On May 17, we are partnering with the West Central Initiative to present the findings of this year's survey at The State of Manufacturing 2017 — West Central Minnesota in Fergus Falls. 2017 marks the ninth year of this survey, and each year, we are always surprised by the new important takeaways and the fresh perspectives we hear. We encourage elected officials, economic developers, educators and media members to attend a State of Manufacturing event and, more importantly, to go and see the incredible breadth of innovative products and parts made by manufacturers in your communities. We know you will find these experiences eye-opening and energizing.

More information about The State of Manufacturing survey can be found at www.enterpriseminnesota.org.

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