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Manufacturers cheered as Obama builds support for industry

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When President Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union speech that “Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing,” his words resonated with manufacturing advocates in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association "has been championing manufacturing for the last decade with our manufacturing renewal program," said Philip Kirschner, its president. "It's a very good sign that the president recognizes (the importance of the sector) and has programs designed to encourage manufacturing."

Obama cited the manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio, and proposed creating a network of 15 such manufacturing hubs nationwide "to guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America."

Andrew Campbell, president of Eastern Millwork, a high-tech architectural wood company in Jersey City, said manufacturers need federal tax policies that encourage them to reinvest profits in their businesses. He also advocated expanding H1B visas, which he said helped his company hire more Americans.

"We have recruited European engineers that have a specific and unique training and understanding of what we do, and that has helped us automate our processes so that we could compete globally and create jobs in New Jersey," Campbell said.

Bob Loderstedt, president of the nonprofit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, said "this is about the third year that (Obama) has publicly acknowledged the importance of manufacturing, and it will translate into a big commitment to manufacturing. I'm excited about it because Obama will in part be a cheerleader — and we need a cheerleader."

Loderstedt said larger companies have started bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States from overseas, and now "some of the medium-sized companies will do that also."

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, called Obama's manufacturing plan "one of the most innovative proposals in the speech. The goal would be to establish collaboration between industry, education and government." Sarno said New Jersey "has special concerns as to where the jobs are located and where unemployed people are concentrated. We also have environmental issues. So it will require intense collaboration."

Meredith Aronson, director of the manufacturing talent network in the state Department of Labor, is working on ways to recruit young people for emerging jobs in advanced manufacturing, which relies on technology and high-skilled workers.

She was encouraged by Obama's speech: "I think for him to reinforce it so early in his comments was a good indicator that he is looking at manufacturing being a primary economic and jobs driver for the country."

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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