Legislators have introduced a package of bills proposing tax cuts, training initiatives and educational programs to help New Jersey's ailing manufacturing industry.
The 10 bills, proposed by several co-sponsors, would create a $10 million-a-year fund to help public higher educational institutions create a manufacturing curriculum, and provide up to $7,500 for each manufacturing apprenticeship created.
One bill would provide tax credits for companies that move business functions to New Jersey from abroad and another would require the New Jersey Employment and Training Commission to produce a report that "evaluates and projects the state's workforce needs."
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, a bill sponsor, said the package grew out of legislators' desire to spark economic development in the state, drawn by the traditionally higher-than-average wages that manufacturing workers earn.
"One of the reasons why the package is heavy on education and commerce together is because employers have indicated to us that one of their biggest challenges is finding a work force to accept these jobs," Singleton said.
The strong educational element in the package stems from the fact that many manufacturing jobs are "middle skills jobs, and are jobs that requires something higher than a high school diploma but not quite the level of the bachelor's degree," Singleton said.
The package faces a formidable task, however, first in getting through the legislature and then in trying to create jobs in a sector that has been losing them for years.
Since the start of 2000, the manufacturing workforce has dropped to 244,000 employees from 420,000, figures on file with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development show.
Clifford F. Lindholm III, head of the manufacturing council for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a Trenton-based trade group, welcomed the package as a "fantastic" sign that someone in Trenton believes manufacturing is important to the state, but questioned whether there are provisions in the bill to fund the actions they authorize.
One of the proposals, the creation of an advanced manufacturing council, has worked well in Pennsylvania, said Lindholm, who is the president of Passaic metal products manufacturer Falstrom Co. He added that the bills, which focus heavily on higher education, should include initiatives to teach middle-school students that manufacturing can be a worthwhile career.
"We find that high school guidance counselors run into issues where parents will say I don't want my son or daughter to go into manufacturing, that's not a career for them," he said.