The importance of Airbus’ U.S. A320 Family final assembly line in Mobile, Ala., was underscored by EADS CEO Tom Enders at the facility’s groundbreaking ceremony in early April.
On April 23, Siemens partnered with Washington Post Live to present a live web event, “America’s New Manufacturing.” The forum was designed to take a look at the role of technology in making the U.S. more competitive, the workers who are driving productivity and how America’s innovation can sustain momentum. Participants included politicians such as Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam; U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio); and several top executives from leading manufacturers.
Brown, whose state boasts more than 660,000 manufacturing jobs, made it clear why the industry has rebounded in the U.S.
“We innovate better than anyone in the world, and we do better than anyone else in product development,” he said.
One session from the all-day event, “Trends in Manufacturing,” featured a panel that include Allan McArtor, chairman, Airbus Americas; Bill Krueger, senior VP, manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain, Nissan North America; and Fred Hochberg, chairman and president, Export-Import Bank of the United States. The topics touched on in this 40-minute discussion were most relevant to the industrial and process heating/cooling industries.
McArtor’s presence in this session was important because Airbus Americas broke ground in early April on a new A320 Family final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. The facility enhances Airbus’ presence within the U.S. airline marketplace and provides additional flexibility to its worldwide industrial network. The decision to bring a new facility to Mobile was an easy one for Airbus.
“Any transportation costs are offset by the higher productivity of the U.S. worker,” McArtor said. “We chose Alabama because the state was very cooperative and the local community was highly motivated.”
Airbus is also heavily invested in Wichita, Kan., where it has an engineering center with 350 engineers and a cooperative agreement with Wichita State University.
Nissan North America, meanwhile, has three production plants in the U.S.: two in Tennessee and one in Mississippi.
“A big part of our decision to manufacture in the U.S. is because there is an adequate quantity of capable workers; a hungry workforce with initiative,” Krueger said.
To prove that Nissan has found that kind of workforce in the U.S., Krueger pointed out that the company has added over 3,000 employees to its Smyrna (Tenn.) plant, 2,000 to its Canton (Miss.) plant and close to 1,000 to its Decherd (Tenn.) plant since 2009.
“It’s important that we have capable workers,” Krueger said. “They don’t necessarily have to be fully trained and skilled, but they do have to have basic requirements and a hunger to learn. We’re finding that in Tennessee and Mississippi.”
There are other reasons companies like Airbus and Nissan are choosing sites in the southern portion of the country to locate their plants.
“These locations are very attractive because of their proximity to our consumers,” Krueger said. “There’s very easy access to most of the buying public. The outbound logistics are very favorable.
“The inbound logistics are also very favorable because most of the supply base that started out in the Detroit area has migrated and shifted south.”
There are additional benefits to having companies such as Airbus and Nissan build a manufacturing presence in the U.S.
“Innovation comes closer to the production facilities,” McArtor said. “There will be a halo effect around Mobile. There will be several hundred miles of economic and innovative activity that will serve that facility. As long as we stay close to our engineering centers and our universities in the U.S., we’ll have a combination of innovation and manufacturing.”
Hochberg helped drive home the point that manufacturing is alive and well in the U.S.
“We are (the U.S.) exporting more goods and services than ever before. There are more goods going overseas,” Hochberg said. “Exports are up in the 40-50% range since 2009. Exporting is a much bigger portion of our economy (14%).”
Of more importance, perhaps, is where those goods are going. “More goods are going to emerging, or developing, economies,” Hochberg said.
Hochberg also encouraged all manufacturers to export the goods they produce. “If you’re not exporting, you’re missing too much of the marketplace.”
When the session moderator asked the panelists what policymakers in Washington should be focused on to accelerate the rebound of U.S. manufacturing, it was no surprise that McArtor and Krueger had similar opinions.
“Find and remove any barriers so that the free-market economy can thrive,” Krueger said.
“Everybody wants to be environmentally sensitive, but we can’t let policies get in the way of expanding commerce,” McArtor said.
Both McArtor and Krueger talked about what the future holds for their respective industries.
“Our industry is going to be driven by economics for the next several decades,” McArtor said. “Speed is not going to differentiate airplanes, it will be efficiencies. There is going to be a huge amount of investment in better engine technology and more environmentally friendly airplanes.”
“The auto industry is going to continue to evolve,” Krueger said. “Some of the emerging markets are going to leapfrog, and they’re not going to be stuck with traditional models. Consumers are hungry – they want the things the more developed countries have.”
McArtor was quick to mention that additive manufacturing will play a large role in the aerospace industry moving forward. He also discussed what the aerospace workers of tomorrow will look like.
“It will be a very highly trained workforce,” he said. “Everyone will be carrying an iPad and using very high-technology applications, but there will still be a manual labor component.”
Airbus’ chairman followed up on the topic of training.
“Training is a very big deal. States will train workers on how to do the core skills, and then the company trains them on the job,” McArtor said. “Recurrent training, however, is extremely important. As we introduce new technologies, the employee that’s been there for 7-8 years has to be trained again.”
Both executives ended the session by giving advice to prospective manufacturing employees.
“You need both attitude and aptitude.” McArtor said. “We want somebody that really enjoys what they do, and they must be willing to be trained.”
“Be a learner, show initiative and be flexible,” Krueger said. “Workers are going to have to continue to retrain themselves and grow wherever they’re at.”