The halls of the Statehouse were transformed into a catalog of sorts today as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association hosted its annual Made in New Jersey Day.
The event showcases the state's manufacturing sector. A total of 28 companies were in attendance, representing nearly all of the state's legislative districts.
Phil Kirschner, NJBIA's president, said the manufacturing sector employs about 250,000 people directly, and tens of thousands more indirectly. In addition to big-name companies like Campbell Soup Co., the state is home to the makers of hundreds of other products, from earth-friendly cleaning products, to pencils and vitamins.
"There's just a lot of interesting niche products that are made here, and the companies are doing well," Kirschner said. "They wouldn't be here if they weren't."
Trip Thomas, regional director at Zodiac Aerospace, came to the event to show off his firm's emergency airplane arresting system. The company makes crushable cement, which can be placed at the end of commercial airport runways to stop out-of-control airplanes. As the crushable cement collapses under the weight of the runaway airplane, it stops the plane by absorbing the energy that otherwise would propel the plane forward.
The system has been deployed in more than 40 airports, including Newark Liberty International and Trenton-Mercer, and it's succeeded all eight times it's been put to the test.
"It's just nice to get out there and be supportive of manufacturing in New Jersey, keeping the jobs here and making sure the economy stays as strong as it can," Thomas said.
Frank Robinson, first vice president at NJBIA and director of its manufacturing network, said people sometimes assume the state doesn't have manufacturing any more, since the smokestacks and automobile plants of previous decades have left.
"There's a misconception that we don't make anything any more in New Jersey," he said. "Quite frankly, there's a misconception that we don't make anything in America any more, which is completely untrue."
He said a lot of the modern manufacturers in the state make highly specialized products, and tend to employ a relatively small number of highly trained employees. But when you add together the 11,000 manufacturing companies in the state, the economic impact is quite significant.
Many of the companies are decades old. LaMonica Fine Foods, in Millville, is a family owned clam company, supplying clam products to restaurants schools and grocery stores.
"We're proud to manufacture in New Jersey," said Kim Beardsworth, a representative from the company's marketing department. "We're proud of where we're located and we just want to raise awareness about the quality of products that are made in New Jersey and are available in the state."
Clifford F. Lindholm III, president and CEO of Falstrom Co., in Passaic, chairs the manufacturing network. He said it's also important that policymakers understand good-paying, steady work is available here for workers with the right training.
Falstrom makes custom electronic enclosures and assemblies, primarily for the defense industry. It's a "low-volume, high-complexity" field. He noted the NJBIA, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the state's community colleges are working together to train and place highly skilled manufacturing employees. His company is currently in the process of hiring workers from the training program at Bergen County College.
"I think it's very important that people in the business community understand that from an economic point of view, the manufacturing sector is a very key component of having a solid state economy," he said.