In advance of World Trade Day, the Rhode Island Manufacturing Renaissance Project released the initial findings of their Rhode Island Manufacturing 1000 (MFG 1000) survey along with a comprehensive program and recommendations for manufacturing expansion and job growth in the state. The project is a joint effort between the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, Bryant University's John H. Chafee Center for International Business, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, and the Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services.
The MFG 1000 survey was created to help identify and clearly define the capabilities of manufacturing companies in Rhode Island. The initial findings of the MFG 1000 survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents plan to add employees in the next three years, with more than 85 percent of those looking for entry level production or machine operator employees. Fifty-three percent of the businesses said they were looking for individuals with advanced skills.
"This kind of information is invaluable to us as we continue to seek out new ways to help more businesses grow and create good jobs in Rhode Island," said Governor Lincoln D. Chafee. "We are constantly looking to help Rhode Island companies get the resources they need to grow their business, and this project will help us identify those looking for assistance," he added.
The survey also found that 56 percent of respondents had expanded their operations in the past three years, but capital investments were of a smaller amount. Of the companies participating, 52 percent had made investments that were below $250,000 and only 13 percent had made an investment of more than $1 million. When considering funding, the survey found that 30 percent of the companies were in need of additional financial resources for things such as capital improvements, inventory buildup, R&D, and market expansion costs.
Bill McCourt, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association (RIMA) said, "The tide is turning and the U.S. is entering a phase of great opportunity for manufacturing renewal and growth. As our initial figures show, Rhode Island manufacturers are eager to be a part of that growth but they need help." McCourt added, "Not only do we need to find ways to help them grow, but we need to provide an environment where entrepreneurs want to start and grow their businesses here and more manufacturers want to return to Rhode Island and stay here."
The survey data indicates that close to 95 percent of Rhode Island manufacturing companies are privately owned, and more than 85 percent do most of their business in U.S. or domestic sales. Fifty-six percent of Rhode Island's manufacturing companies have between 20-49 employees, and another 23 percent had between 50-99 employees. More than half the respondents said they were having difficulty in finding both entry level and advanced hires, and 54 percent of them said it was getting harder to find qualified workers.
"It's not a surprise to us that many companies are finding it harder to find qualified workers," said Harsha Prakash, Chief Executive Officer at Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services (RIMES). "The workforce needs have changed and we need to find a way to deliver flexible, dynamic workers that can innovate new products and processes for market demands, many of which are technology-based," Prakash added.
While the survey portion of the project is intended to help collect important data about the Rhode Island manufacturing landscape, it is also being used to create a comprehensive database of manufacturers across Rhode Island. For the first time ever, the new database will be a one-stop resource to find out what products Rhode Island companies are producing, which companies have a certain expertise in one area, and how local companies can become suppliers or buyers for other Rhode Island companies.
"We have close to 70 percent of our manufacturing companies interested in adding more Rhode Island companies to their supply chain, but they have no way to find out who is producing what they need," said Raymond W. Fogarty, Director at the Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University. "This new venue does exactly that, and will be an invaluable tool to help local manufacturers grow their companies and connect with one another," he added.
Phase 1 of the MFG 1000 survey included reaching out to the state's largest manufacturers with 20 or more employees and securing responses via email, postal mail, and in person meetings. As the project continues into next year, the group will begin soliciting data from the hundreds of smaller manufacturers with less than 20 employees to build an even more comprehensive database.
In addition, the Rhode Island Manufacturing Renaissance Project also released a new report entitled, "Addressing Perceptions and Realities: The Rhode Island Manufacturing Renewal and Growth Program." The document offers an analysis about Rhode Island's current manufacturing landscape compared to the national manufacturing environment and makes several recommendations that the state should pursue to grow more manufacturing jobs and manufacturing companies.
Among several recommendations, the authors believe Rhode Island needs to make manufacturing a priority again. Citing that the state has gone from having one of the highest concentrations of manufacturing to below the national average in just 20 years, there must be a sense of urgency and prioritization. The state should also look to grow exports. Rhode Island's ports offer a unique advantage to exporters and training and support programs must be funded to help spur international trade opportunities. Leveraging the new MFG 1000 survey and finding a way to support the maintenance and upkeep the new manufacturing database is also essential.
The Rhode Island Manufacturing Renaissance Project is being funded by a $60,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, as part of their "Make It Happen RI" initiative. The release of the initial findings and report recommendations coincide with the start of the Chafee Center's World Trade Day event, which brings together manufacturing and service companies from across New England to learn more about how to access international markets. It is the largest global trade event of its kind in the region.