Guest Opinion: Manufacturing is huge in Washington. Let’s celebrate — and invest in it

Washington’s manufacturing sector produces more than the world’s best airplanes.

We also build top-of-the-line “big blue” cranes, craft world-class wines and innovate the way in which students learn, ensuring that hands-on jobs are filled across the region.

The depth and breadth of Washington’s manufacturing sector has allowed it to play a key role in the economic health of communities, particularly in rural areas, and move Washington families into the middle class.

It’s a sector that needs to be celebrated.

That’s why the Association of Washington Business (AWB) took the first week of October to tour shop floors across the state. Two custom-wrapped buses stopped at almost 70 manufacturing facilities suring the six-day, 2,000-mile trip crisscrossing the state.

While in the Tri-Cities, the bus not only stopped at Lampson International, but it also visited the recently expanded Lamb Weston plant in Richland — a $200 million investment that will create 150 family-wage jobs — as well as Delta High School and Barnard Griffin Winery.

The student leaders who led the tour at Delta High impressed us and gave us a sense of optimism about the future. The Lamb Weston employees had fun signing their names on the side of the tour bus and decorating it with stickers saying, “Make every day a ‘fry’ day.” And the tour group got to enjoy the view from the cab level of Lampson’s Transi-Lift LTL 3000, the world’s largest mobile crawler.

The goals of the week were to highlight the importance of manufacturing to the state’s overall economic health, hear first-hand what opportunities on which we can capitalize to help the sector thrive, and to show the next generation the clean, high-tech and high-wage jobs available in manufacturing.

Manufacturing has a long history in Washington and it has a great story to tell: In Benton County, careers in manufacturing pay an average annual wage of $55,701, $50,575 in Walla Walla County and almost $41,000 in Franklin County. Not bad for jobs that often require no more than a trade certificate or a two-year degree. It also has a multiplier of three — for every one job created in manufacturing, another three jobs are created elsewhere.

That’s a good return on investment, but the sector faces some headwinds.

As manufacturing comes on a national resurgence, Washington’s sector has lost about 48,000 jobs since 2000 — the vast majority of which are non-aerospace jobs.

Clearly, more can be done to support good-paying manufacturing jobs here and across the state.

Lawmakers took one step in that direction this year by passing a modest manufacturing business and occupation tax reduction, evening out the tax rates of all manufacturers in the state. The tax relief received broad bipartisan support because it would have helped thousands of small- and medium-sized manufacturers across the state invest more in their operations, boost employee pay and benefits and compete with larger — the exact jobs needed throughout southwest Washington.

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the budget provision.

Manufacturers also need a skilled workforce — some 3.5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will be open during the next several years, making it critical that we show the next generation what today’s high-tech and clean shop floors look like. Then, we need to match those young adults with apprenticeship programs, trade and community and technical college opportunities and four-year programs that give them the skills to fit the needs of manufacturers in our area.

Together, we can and should do a better job of closing the “interest gap” in the next generation of workers by opening shop doors and inviting students, parents, teachers and local officials to see what today’s hands-on careers really look like — and start it early at innovative high schools like Delta.

And we need to celebrate the sector year-round, highlighting the meaningful ways manufacturing makes our world better, economy stronger and secures economic opportunity throughout Washington and the nation.

Kate Lampson is the director of public relations and marketing for Kennewick-based Lampson International, a manufacturer of cranes and lifts since 1946. Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the oldest and largest business group in the state and the designated Manufacturing Association.