CHIPLEY — What if you wanted to open a facility making parts for airplane engines, but couldn’t find any employees locally with the skills to work the machines needed to machine the parts?


Manufacturing in Northwest Florida

Manufacturing is a key driver in the 12-county regional economy. The region is expected to receive $2.6 billion in total 2013 GDP (gross domestic product) from manufacturing.

* The manufacturing industry directly contributes 14,518 jobs across the Northwest Florida Economy and in the process, generates $985 million in total earnings. This equates to $67,872 in earnings for each worker employed in the industry. The leisure and hospitality industry, by comparison, employs 63,053 workers across the region and generates $1.3 billion in earnings. This equates to roughly $20,600 in earnings for each worker employed in the industry. Manufacturing has a higher economic impact (as measured by earnings) in the region per job generated than any other industry super cluster.

* The manufacturing industry also adds an additional 17,062 jobs indirectly to the economy. For every 1 job in manufacturing, an additional 2.175 jobs are generated in the region.

* Manufacturing is projected to grow more rapidly in Northwest Florida than in any other region in the state.

SOURCE: Northwest Florida Manufacturers Council



CHIPLEY — What if you wanted to open a facility making parts for airplane engines, but couldn’t find any employees locally with the skills to work the machines needed to machine the parts?

Increasingly, manufacturers are having trouble finding employees capable of doing the jobs that need to be done. But now, there is a new council forming that hopes to lay the groundwork for a healthy workforce in Northwest Florida by bringing the various factions of education together with manufacturing leaders to develop a skilled workforce.

The newly formed Northwest Florida Manufacturers Council wants to bring educators and manufacturers together to work on building this workforce, making Northwest Florida more attractive to industries that might want to locate here.

Northwest Florida Manufacturers Council Vice Chairman Allan Bense and Board Member Terry Ellis were in Chipley Monday discussing the new council.

“We’re getting people together and discussing the needs,” Ellis said. “We want to be a voice for all industry thoughout Northwest Florida.”

Bense is president of GAC Contractors in Panama City and served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1998-2006. Ellis is a founding board member. He is manager of West Point Home in Chipley and serves on the Washington County School Board.

Chipola College and Washington County Chamber of Commerce are charter members of the council.

Helping manufacturing companies grow is the aim of the council, Ellis said, which consists of representatives from area employers, educational institutions and economic development and workforce organizations.

The group has been meeting since January to discuss how existing manufacturers can be more successful and how to attract more companies to the region.

The result of those meetings is the formation of the council, which will help companies work together to compete in a global marketplace with a special emphasis on having a skilled workforce.

“We have to change the image of technical education,” Bense said. “There is that impression that students who go to a technical campus are not as successful as their college-bound counterparts, but technical jobs are good paying jobs.”

Bense said certified automotive technicians can earn $70,000 a year, for example. “A lot of the jobs begin at $30,000, and go up from there,” he said. Likewise, most skilled manufacturing positions that pay well above minimum wage require math and science knowledge as well as practical mechanical ability.

“One of the problems is, if you ask a room full of parents ‘who wants their child to go to college,’ most of them will raise their hands. But the truth is we aren’t sending all our kids to college,” Bense said.

Ellis said that in Washington County, 75 percent of the graduates will not go to college. “We need to do a better job of providing that technical education or certification program for these students so they can get out of high school and earn a good living,” Ellis said.

Likewise, a skilled workforce is often a prerequisite for manufacturers to build a facility in a region.

“People aren’t looking at five-year plans anymore,” Ellis said. “They are looking 18 months down the road, and they want to know what you can do for them right now,” when it comes to providing things such as an suitable industrial site or a skilled workforce.

Ellis said there is likely to be a resurgence in manufacturing in the U.S., and to benefit from the resurgence Northwest Florida needs to begin planning now.

The council wants to start by initiating a dialog between public schools, colleges, universities and technical schools along with manufacturing leaders to start working toward the goal of providing essential workforce education, Ellis said.

“I’ve been told that if the students have a certain level of education, then they can be trained in other skills,” Ellis said. “It’s getting the students up to that level, and changing the perception that technical education is somehow lesser than college-oriented education, that we need to work on.”

The form the education will take, and the development of the technical academies, is something to be decided, but that discussion needs to begin as soon as possible, Bense said.

The council currently has more than 25 members and is looking to grow the membership.

 “This new council exists to serve the needs of local manufacturers,” said Greg Britton, CEO of Fort Walton Machining and council chairman, in a news release. “By banding together we will increase our influence on a regional, state and national level to ensure our industry continues to prosper.”

Manufacturing is a high value-added industry in the economy, generating the highest earnings per worker of any industry. With more than 15,000 manufacturing jobs already in Northwest Florida, this sector is projected to grow at a higher rate than in other region throughout the state, according to Britton.

“The benefits of membership include promoting job creation and helping to build a skilled manufacturing workforce in the region,” Britton said. “And by speaking with one voice we can help tackle issues and address roadblocks.”

The council also is an affiliate chapter of the Manufacturers Association of Florida, which will offer statewide and national advocacy for members.

The board of directors for the new organization consists of leaders from several companies throughout the region, including Britton. Gulf Power President & CEO Stan Connally and Bense are the vice-chairs of the organization

 “The availability of skilled technicians — everything from CNC machinists to welders to chemical process operators — is vital to growing the region’s manufacturing base,” Connally said in the news release. "This council will raise awareness of these high-skill, high-wage careers and will work with education partners throughout the region to grow training programs to prepare future workers for this industry." Other goals for the council will be developed through input from members.

“An organization like this has been needed in our area for a long time, and we hope that local manufacturing companies and partners will see the advantages of being a part of it,” Bense said. “We can make a lot more progress together than we can alone.”

The council is open to manufacturers of all sizes in the Northwest Florida region, as well as affiliate members and vendors who have an interest in the economic success of manufacturers.

The first membership meeting will be held in September. For more information, visit the NWFMC website here.