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Manufacturing starting to come back in upstate New York

Saturday, May 3, 2014
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Remember when President Obama came to Schenectady in 2011 and announced his national job creation and global competitiveness initiative in a visit to the General Electric Co.? He spoke about creating jobs — not service industry jobs, not public-sector jobs, but manufacturing jobs, the kind that built this country and the loss of which has hurt it so badly. A forum on manufacturing held last week at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute looked at where the Capital Region is in this effort, and it’s in a pretty good place.

That’s because General Electric in Schenectady has been doing better lately, finding new markets for its steam turbines in Africa and the Middle East. The company has also made Schenectady global headquarters for its new GE Renewable Energy unit, established a new windmill monitoring operation and opened a new battery plant here.

The GlobalFoundries chip fabrication plant in Malta has created about 1,300 jobs (most of them tech positions that pay $60,000 and up), and, the company estimates, a few thousand more in its supply chain.

In addition, the College of Nanoscience and Engineering at SUNY Albany, which was recently spun off and merged with SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica as a separate college, can be expected to spur more manufacturing here and across upstate. Last week, state officials announced that a leading Japanese maker of solar panels, Solar Frontier, is interested in opening a factory in Buffalo, attracted by a nanosciences satellite in Western New York. It could also put a research lab at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany.

These are encouraging signs for the Capital Region and upstate. High-tech and clean energy industries are starting to take root.

However, one problem here, and the rest of the country, is a shortage of skilled workers. In his State of the Union address, President Obama offered a couple of promising ways to address it — as well as $600 million in already appropriated funds to try them.

Most of the money will go for competitive grants to community colleges that train dislocated workers for jobs. The rest will go to increase the number of job training programs, especially apprenticeships, which are used so successfully in Germany to get young people into the workforce.

There’s still a stigma against vocational training in white-collar society, even with so many recent college graduates unemployed or underemployed (and with staggering debt loads). End it, and we suspect the skilled worker shortage will end with it.

 
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