After discovering more than 30 manufacturing companies decided not to move to Cheyenne last year, local experts are looking for ways to keep that from happening again.
Less than 6% of Wyoming’s current GDP output comes from the manufacturing sector, but government officials and business leaders in the state want to increase that number. They say it isn’t due to a lack of interest from companies, but rather lack of a qualified workforce.
Officials at Laramie County Community College are among the first to interact with young adults graduating from high school, and they’re trying to find ways to fill this gap. The college offers programs and facilities to show students the inner workings of manufacturing and also hosts events to promote future opportunities.
On Friday, LCCC held a conference and panel discussion about the manufacturing sector. Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins also proclaimed Oct. 1 Manufacturing Day in Laramie County. It is a part of a month-long dive into the manufacturing industry and its benefits for the community.
“It is forecasted that there will be more than 4 million jobs in manufacturing by 2030,” LCCC Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Kari Brown-Herbst said. “Many of those will be right here in Laramie County, and we are positioned in Cheyenne to emerge as a manufacturing center.”
In order to achieve that, though, experts say there needs to be a concerted effort to encourage participation and employment.
Rocky Case, center director of Manufacturing Works, a partnership of the University of Wyoming, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Wyoming Business Council, led the panel and said the lack of sufficient workforce starts with Wyoming’s youth. He said he sees the shortage of employable residents as a result of the state’s greatest export – its young adults.
The four other representatives from local manufacturers at the conference agreed, as they have spent months looking for candidates to hire for their own companies.
William Coppinger with Thunder Beast Arms Corporation, said he has been looking for 10 to 20 workers for two years. Other manufacturers, such as Nortrak and the local brewing company Accomplice, have been searching for months for employees.
This has been a nationwide trend. Nationally, 77% of all manufacturers in the United States had unfilled jobs because of a diminished workforce, according to Brown-Herbst.
Maryellen Tast, dean of LCCC’s School of Outreach and Workforce Development, wants to address this shortage by better utilizing the school’s resources. She said she sees the manufacturing industry as a creative and technological career field, which is far different than the stereotypical dark and musty factories of the past.
The college is already making strides with its welding and agriculture industry programs, but there are minimal opportunities for advanced manufacturing. 3D printing services, entrepreneurial guidance and maker spaces for products are available at LCCC, but Tast said it isn’t enough.
On the Nov. 2 sixth-penny sales tax ballot, voters will be asked to invest in a community resource dedicated to the manufacturing industry. Proposition 8 includes at little more than $3 million to establish an Advanced Manufacturing and Materials Center at LCCC.
If voters approve, the college would be able to offer classes and certification courses on skills such as project management, metal and plastic additive manufacturing, mill and lathe operations and 3D modeling. After gaining an education in these topics, students would likely be able to find a job quickly with an average starting salary of $57,280, according to a brochure from LCCC.
“I think it will be a huge benefit for Laramie County and the surrounding counties,” said Coppinger of Thunder Beast Arms, “mainly for the high school students that want to stick around.”
He said they can work in a well-equipped industry without a two-year or four-year college degree, and have the chance to work with their hands.
Brian Gross, an engineer at Alliance Brew Gear in Cheyenne, said development of more manufacturing jobs would not only help residents on an individual level, it would also generate wealth for the state. He has seen the shift away from the mining and extraction industries in Wyoming and said the restructuring of the economy must happen in order for Wyoming to succeed in the future.
He and other experts want to see Cheyenne set an example in Wyoming and start investing in the future of manufacturing.
“We’re going to have to grow our way out of this,” he said.