Manufacturing boom needs workers, reforms

HOUSTON–The energy boom has led to a surge in manufacturing plant openings and announcements, but that growth is being endangered by politics, the president of the nation’s manufacturing lobbying group said Tuesday in Houston.

An abundance of natural gas in the United States has driven down energy costs and given manufacturers an incentive to expand and build facilities in the country. But while there are more than $90 billion in investments planned for chemical plants alone, there is a shortage of local workers to help make it happen and political hurdles affecting some potential hires, said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

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While Timmons criticized healthcare reforms for adding costs for manufacturers, he said immigration reform would give a boost to businesses that rely on immigrant workers. Timmons made his comments during a State of Manufacturing luncheon hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership at Hotel Icon in Houston.

“We’re pushing very hard for immigration reform and we think there is a path forward within this calendar year to get it done,” Timmons said.

He said any effective plan would have to include a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.
Workforce training is another challenge facing the industry, Timmons said.

While the expansion of the manufacturing sector in the United States has led to new jobs, many Americans do not currently qualify for the positions, he said.

“There are 600,000 jobs in manufacturing that are going unfilled today because we don’t have the right skills to fill them,” Timmons said.

Eighty-two percent of manufacturers report that they have jobs unfilled because they can’t find appropriately skilled workers, he said.

While the organization is partnering with schools and community colleges near manufacturing plants, more needs to be done to train the workforce, he said.

Evidence of the energy boom’s effect on manufacturing is visible throughout the Houston area.

Timmons highlighted LyondellBasell’s decision to restart a methanol plant last month that had been dormant for ten years.

“That’s just one example of how manufacturing is benefiting from affordable natural gas,” Timmons said.

According to a survey by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, these are the most important job skills for oil and gas workers to hold: