Modern manufacturing sheds 'grungy' image but perception still lags
WILLMAR - When Bob Kill takes a tour of a manufacturing facility, what he usually encounters is an environment that's clean, well-lit and often equipped with the latest in robotic and megatronic technology.
So why does manufacturing still struggle with stereotypes out of a Charles Dickens novel? wonders Kill, the executive director of Enterprise Minnesota.
Perhaps it's because most people know too little about 21st-century manufacturing.
American adults grew up with a belief that manufacturing "is dirty, grungy, like a blacksmith shop," said Kill. "The truth of the matter is technology has changed all those roles."
Kill and his organization are unabashed ambassadors for manufacturing. In his travels around the state, he urges heightened visibility for a sector of the economy that accounts for 13 percent of the jobs in Minnesota and 16 percent of wages.
Kill visited Willmar recently to share the findings of Enterprise Minnesota's fifth annual "State of Manufacturing" report, a survey exploring how manufacturing executives feel about the economy, public policy, workforce issues and more.
Focus groups conducted for the survey reinforced the gap many manufacturers often see between public perception and reality.
"They all think of it as the foundry," observed one of the participants at a focus group in Albert Lea.
From a participant at a Montevideo focus group meeting: "Go to a local career day at the high school. You can talk engineering; you can talk welding. Guess which one they are going to let you talk about."
Kill said the annual survey has raised awareness of the issues facing the state's manufacturers. "It's really brought visibility to the challenges and opportunities," he said.
Manufacturers can't stop there, however, he said.
He urges the industry to become its own best promoter: "If you're a manufacturer, open your doors and show people what you're making."