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Echo Press Editorial: Manufacturing adds punch to local economy

It's time to celebrate an industry that's a powerful contributor to the economies of Minnesota and Douglas County — manufacturing.

October 1-7 is Minnesota Manufacturing Week for a reason.

Manufacturing accounts for one in nine jobs in the state. When you add in jobs in other industries that are dependent on manufacturing, each manufacturing job generates another 2.21 jobs in other segments of the economy.

In the Alexandria area, manufacturing provided 3,143 jobs in 2016, accounting for 18 percent of the area's total employment. Out of the area's top 10 employers, four are manufacturing companies — Douglas Machine with a workforce of 650, Alexandria Industries with 588, 3M with 370 and Brenton Engineering with 280. And these are good-paying jobs. Manufacturing companies offer an average weekly pay of $1,027, making it the third-highest paying industry in Douglas County.

We're fortunate to have a diverse manufacturing base that isn't dependent on one particular industry. We're also fortunate to have the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, which helps draw new businesses into town as well as encouraging existing business expansions. Since 2002, the commission has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of incentives to area employers through revolving loan funds, tax increment financing, tax abatement, industrial revenue bonds and more.

The Alexandria Technical and Community College and the Alexandria Area High School are also a big part of the equation by providing the kind of skilled hands-on training that help young people find a career in the manufacturing sector.

The city of Alexandria is also a strong supporter of the manufacturing industry by offering three types of revolving loan funds — commercial and industrial development and equipment purchases.

Tours of manufacturing facilities are taking place around the state this week — including a tour of the Alexandria Technical and Community College's manufacturing and nursing labs today, Wednesday. Educational activities are planned throughout the month.

"We want people to be aware of the dynamic career opportunities that exist in manufacturing across the state — and the family-sustaining wages they pay," said Shawntera Hardy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "DEED also partners with businesses and educational institutions to ensure that manufacturers can find the skilled workers they need to thrive and to grow their businesses."

Hardy provided the following facts about manufacturing in Minnesota:

• Close to 318,000 people work in manufacturing in Minnesota. Manufacturing employment has increased 9 percent between 2010 and 2016.

• Salaries in the sector are significantly higher than most other industries in the state because many manufacturing jobs require high-tech skills to operate advanced technology and computer-controlled equipment. The average manufacturing position in the state paid $63,794 a year in 2016. This is about $9,500 (or 17 percent) more than the typical job in Minnesota.

• There are more than 8,200 manufacturing establishments in Minnesota. They produce products across a broad range of industries — aerospace, agriculture and farm machinery, food production, sensors and robotics, construction components, HVAC technology, medical devices and more.

• Many of Minnesota's Fortune 500 companies are manufacturers, including 3M, General Mills, Land O'Lakes, Ecolab, Hormel Foods, Mosaic and St. Jude Medical.

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