Technology supports Maryland’s manufacturing growth

Maryland manufacturers have made strides over the past year in adopting technologies that increase their competitiveness with firms in countries like China that benefit from an abundance of cheap labor.

Manufacturers’ willingness to embrace digital and non-digital technologies has served local manufacturers well in 2022, said Mike Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, ahead of his organization’s Champions of Manufacturing event on Thursday November 17th.

“Manufacturers are embracing new digital technologies that allow them to be more efficient and productive,” said Galiazzo.

Technological advances in manufacturing, she said, stimulate the sector in various ways, ranging from competitive advantages to attracting more women and minorities to work in the sector.

The incorporation of new technologies by Maryland manufacturers has also strengthened the diversity of emerging manufacturing sectors, Galiazzo said, including biotech and defense companies not traditionally considered producers.

“There’s such a diversity of products coming out of Maryland companies,” he said.

In 2020, according to the most recent available data from the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the state’s top manufacturing sectors by gross domestic product were chemical manufacturing, computer electronics manufacturing, and food and tobacco manufacturing. Machinery manufacturing and what the report calls miscellaneous manufacturing round out the top five.

The state’s industrialists outpaced national GDP growth dating back to 2015, according to the same data. While the nation, on average, has experienced a decline in manufacturing GDP due to the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland’s manufacturing avoided a decline remarkable. According to the state’s analysis of federal labor data, wages in manufacturing also exceeded the national average. Manufacturing employees in Maryland, on average, made more than $40 an hour compared to the national average of about $35 an hour.

However, Maryland manufacturers still need help to expand the industry’s role in the local economy.

The biggest challenge for producers, Galiazzo said, is filling the available jobs.

Maryland’s available labor force has, since 2019, plummeted, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the national average rebounded after a low point in 2020, the size of the workforce in Maryland fell to its lowest level since 2016.

As of 2021, Maryland estimated its workforce to be approximately 3.17 million. State residents ages 25 to 34 represented the largest pool of available employees. They make up about 22% of the state’s workforce, which lines up with the national average.

The most notable gap between Maryland’s workforce and the national average is with workers aged 35 to 44. Nationally, workers in that age group make up 21.5% of the workforce, while in Maryland, that group makes up about 19% of workers.

Thousands of jobs at Maryland manufacturers go unfilled every month, Galiazzo said. He attributed the struggle to fill those jobs to a lack of awareness of their availability and not to employees lacking the required skills.

For example, Galiazzo said his company attended a virtual job fair in Baltimore County with 16 manufacturing companies looking to fill more than 300 positions.

“We had over 250 people attending the virtual job fair and we were still having trouble filling the void,” she said.

Outgoing Governor Larry Hogan’s administration, Galiazzo said, has done an admirable job promoting the role of manufacturing in the state economy. However, there is still need for improvement.

Recent conversations with elected officials, including Governor-elect Wes Moore, Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman and Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson, have left Galiazzo confident a government change won’t affect support for Annapolis to boost manufacturing.

“Maryland can be a national showcase for next-generation manufacturing. But we need to be able to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and then upgrade workers’ skills to work in those tech-savvy environments,” Galiazzo said.

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