The 2008 recession hit the Northwest Georgia region’s once flourishing floor covering industry hard; the entire region suffered, losing more than 16,000 jobs with the Dalton-Whitfield County area losing 4,600 jobs, according to the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission.
While today the manufacturing industry is in recovery in Northwest Georgia—4,000 manufacturing related announcements have been made in the region since 2013—there is still work to do.
“With the resurgence of the floor covering industry and other advanced manufacturers, the use of automated processes really came into place,” explained Julie Meadows, director of Regional Planning for Northwest Georgia Regional Commission. “The machinery used today requires a skilled worker and many workers here do not have training, so we have a skills gap among the workforce.”
“The manufacturing industry is good and getting better but it is harder and harder to find and recruit good people, especially younger people, to work in manufacturing,” added David Apple, a regional manager serving Northwest Georgia for the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute. “To make it as a worker in this industry one has to be sharp and have a good work ethic.”
To address the manufacturing industry’s workforce and other needs, in 2013, the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission started to work with Georgia Tech to put together an advanced manufacturing strategy aimed at preparing a pipeline of ready and skilled labor, among other initiatives.
“The biggest things we can do ourselves are on the training and workforce development side and adopting industry best practices,” Apple said.
In May 2014, the region received great news for its effort to improve its manufacturing sector. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the Northwest Georgia region as one of 12 communities across the nation designated as an Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) Manufacturing Community. The U.S. Commerce Department led program is designed to support job creation, accelerate manufacturing growth and make communities more globally competitive by transforming their industrial ecosystems into globally competitive manufacturing hubs.
With the two-year IMCP designation and possible renewal, the Northwest Georgia region receives support from 11 federal agencies with $1.3 billion available in federal economic development assistance. Plus, the region has a dedicated federal liaison at each federal agency to help the region navigate available federal resources.
“The strategy has been completed and a consortium of manufacturers, suppliers, elected officials and leaders in education and infrastructure, among others, has been formed,” explained Meadows. “The consortium is now implementing the strategy.” Meadows credits Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brian Anderson as a champion of the consortium and the regional benefits of the IMCP designation, which also gives the region access to possible funds and other resources leaders could use to assist the region with implementing the strategy.
Having community, business, education and manufacturing leaders all in the same room, working on the same goal, is helping the region make strides, according to Apple. “As we lay out the strategy, there is a cross section of people that are able to coordinate and plan,” he said. “One of the strengths of the Northwest Georgia community is people working together well.”
In addition to workforce training, the consortium is focused on implementing projects that revolve around regional infrastructure, including broadband; research and innovation, particularly for sustainable industry operations; marketing and promotion of advanced manufacturing industries; and building local and regional partnerships between educational institutions, industry and the community. “The final outcome of the designation and the projects will be to create jobs, increase investment and sustain and advance our manufacturing industries,” Meadows said.
Project progress is underway. One project is the launch of a chemical technician program at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy and the Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
“The chemical technician program was implemented just to meet the needs of what the floor covering industry was demanding,” Meadows said. Another project is the forming of the Alliance for Innovation and Sustainability Manufactures forum.
“It is a group of industry leaders, sitting together at a table to work voluntarily on recycling strategies, energy efficiency, reduction of waste, new products and new ways to produce a product,” Meadows explained.
“The alliance then shares best practices across the Northwest Georgia region. We are working with federal and state agencies to see if there are funding sources that can help in each of those areas.”
Other career-based courses at area high schools, career academies and colleges are also being developed.
“Addressing the skills gap—that is a very tangible thing that has come out of this effort,” Apple said.
Just as Northwest Georgia is seeing success so can other regions in Georgia, Meadows said.
“It is really a good time for cities and other stakeholders to look at helping the manufacturing industry; there is a lot of desire on the federal and state levels to keep industries here in the U.S.,” Meadows said. “Elected and community leaders can bring everyone together and identify all the available resources that can help industry and educational institutions.”
Georgia Tech is one such resource available to communities around the state. Its Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), which is a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has offices in nine regions across the state and has been serving Georgia manufacturers since 1960.
“We offer a solution based approach through coaching and education designed to increase top line growth and reduce bottom line cost,” Apple said. The program holds quarterly educational meetings around the state. Visit gamep.org for more information.
Round two of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership
is now open.