Staying Power Task Force

The Dukakis Center is currently seeking funding to carry out a detailed forecast of future employment opportunities in the state and the types of vocational training that will need to be offered by our technical schools and community colleges to assure that we have a sufficient number of well-trained young workers to fill the job openings we project.

Background on the Staying Power Task Force

The Staying Power Task Force was created to develop and implement recommendations based on findings from ground-breaking research about the Massachusetts manufacturing sector. Contrary to conventional assumptions that the manufacturing sector will continue to decline until it disappears, research by the Dukakis Center revealed that what currently remains of the manufacturing sector in Massachusetts is more dynamic, resilient, and promising that anyone would have predicted prior to the study.

Not only will the manufacturing sector no longer face steep declines in jobs, responses from leaders in the sector reveal that it will actually slightly increase once the economy rebounds. In fact, based on growth and turnover largely due to retirement, the manufacturing sector will have over 100,000 job openings in Massachusetts over the next 12-15 years.

The Staying Power Task Force is made up of representatives from the manufacturing sector, government, education, and workforce development. In order to take advantage of the insights gleaned from the research, we need to undertake efforts to better market the manufacturing sector, even to ourselves, AND ensure that the sector has sufficiently trained and ready workforce for these jobs. With staff support and leadership from the Dukakis Center, the Task Force has set out to accomplish these two objectives.

Background on the Study of the Manufacturing Sector in Massachusetts

In the spring of 2007, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through 2006 legislation designed to stimulate and promote job creation, commissioned Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy to undertake a new study of the state’s manufacturing sector. With the sharp decline in employment experienced over the past two decades in the industries that encompass the state’s manufacturing base, the Commonwealth was particularly interested in gathering information on what is still produced in Massachusetts, where it is being produced, the challenges facing manufacturers in their attempts to sustain or expand their in-state operations, and, perhaps most important of all, what the state might do to support this sector to assure that it continues to provide a large number of good jobs at good pay for Massachusetts men and women.

Ultimately, the study would involve a major survey of all manufacturing establishments in the state along with interviews of over one hundred CEOs, owners, and managers in this sector. To carry out such a massive effort, we enjoyed not only support from the Commonwealth, but additional financial assistance from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Program (Mass MEP) and the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development (MAED). We especially appreciate the effort of state Sen. Jack Hart who saw the importance of conducting this research so that economic stimulus funding in the Commonwealth can be targeted to have the greatest impact on retaining and attracting business investment and jobs. We also want to acknowledge the key role the Boston Foundation played in publishing and helping to disseminate this report.

To set the context for this study, we began by analyzing historical data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the from the U.S. Census Bureau on the state’s manufacturing sector going back to World War II. These data provided detailed information on which manufacturing industries operate in the Commonwealth, on what products have been produced in the state, on the number of workers employed in the sector, and the regional dispersion of individual firms within the state.

While these government data were being analyzed, we worked with our partners to construct a survey of manufacturing firms which contained a comprehensive set of questions aimed at gaining a better understand of the key factors driving this sector. The survey was designed to answer the “why” questions that are not always attainable from existing published data.

Using a commercial data base, a survey questionnaire was mailed to virtually every manufacturing enterprise in the state. Of the more than 9,600 surveys mailed, 870 were returned as undeliverable and 706 completed surveys were returned. We found from an analysis of the returned questionnaires that our sample of firms was reasonably representative of the entire population of manufacturing firms in the state in terms of firm size, geography, and specific industry sector.

The Dukakis Center and our partners recognized that even the survey might not provide as full or as detailed a story of Massachusetts manufacturing as we desired, so the survey was augmented with more than 100 personal interviews with manufacturing executives from the firms which returned our mailed survey. These interviews permitted CEOs, owners, and managers to tell their companies’ individual stories and to elaborate on their survey responses where necessary.

Finally, the Dukakis Center and our partners reviewed our analysis of the data and collectively prepared the Executive Summary and policy recommendations that follow. What we have found in our research is not an industrial sector that is hemorrhaging, disappearing or dying, but a sector that has weathered many a storm and now has the technological prowess, efficiency, and product to provide good and often exceptional employment opportunities for more than 260,000 Massachusetts workers well into the future.

Improving the odds of fulfilling this bullish forecast for manufacturing in Massachusetts can be fostered by the Commonwealth if it considers implementing a set of prudent state and local policies that can help meet some of the remaining challenges facing this important sector.

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