Cumpata: Manufacturing Day puts spotlight on skills gap

If you have not noticed, there has been a lot of talk about manufacturing lately from the media, politicians, business leaders and educators. In fact, Friday, marked the second anniversary of Manufacturing Day. The recognition host entities are Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, National Association of Manufacturers , Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Manufacturing Institute.

Manufacturing Day addresses common misperceptions about manufacturing by giving manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show, in a coordinated effort, what manufacturing is – and what it is not. By working together during and after Manufacturing Day, these companies are addressing the skilled labor shortage they face, connecting with future generations of workers, taking charge of the public image of manufacturing and ensuring the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry.

What is so exciting is that McHenry County has been focused on this initiative long before Manufacturing Day was created and the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. has been driving this initiative forward with our collaborative partners the McHenry County Workforce Network and McHenry County College for many years. In addition, many of our local manufacturers have been working independently with area high schools to educate students about opportunities in manufacturing.  

One often hears that manufacturing is on the decline in the U.S. That is not correct. What is correct is that manufacturers have been enhancing efficiencies through the use of new technology. The result of these advanced manufacturing techniques is that the skill level of the workforce has also been raised creating the need for more skilled employees. Manufactures also have been able to increase production by utilizing new techniques within their existing building so there is no need to construct additional facilities. In talking with a number of our manufacturers, in the last two years, on an aggregate basis in McHenry County, more than $100 million has been spent on equipment, facility enhancements and training. 

McHenry County’s focus on manufacturing continues to gain momentum by all of us talking and working together as partners. 

Here are some examples:

• MCC and the Workforce Network with support from the MCEDC received funding to create a welding boot camp back in 2007. It has been a success and model frequently referenced by elected officials, educators and manufacturers

• MCC joined a consortium of community colleges for an advanced manufacturing grant which resulted in the new Robotics program; 

• MCEDC has a dedicated website for manufacturing – This site provides a directory of McHenry County manufacturers, aids in expanding supply chain opportunities and posts news and events of interest to our manufacturers.

• MCEDC, McHenry County Workforce Network, MCC partnered with counties to the west such as Winnebago, Boone and six others, to seek the Make It In America grant to further support manufacturing. We’re awaiting word on approval.

• The McHenry County Workforce Network and MCEDC together with our six collar county workforce and economic development organizations received a grant for the Accelerated Training of Illinois Manufacturing       

• MCEDC spearheaded and coordinated 844 high schools students attendance at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago with financial assistance from Scot Forge, Sage Products and Wells Manufacturing. We are planning for the 2014 how.

MCEDC annually recognizes McHenry County Business Champions at its annual dinner. Past award winners include Other World Computing, Medela, Millennium Electronics, Scot Forge, Jan-Air, Astro Craft, Joule Technologies, Dordan Manufacturing, Chroma Technology, Impact Plastics and All-Rite Spring. Another 17 companies have been nominated for this year’s Business Champion Awards. The winners will be announced at our annual dinner Nov. 5.   

Another partner who has been critical to our manufacturing initiatives is the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center. IMEC was established in 1996 to improve the productivity and competitiveness of the state’s small- and mid-sized manufacturing firms. It links a company’s long-term plans and related goals with on-site implementation services by identifying performance gaps, solving these gaps and building a culture to support sustained improvements. The organization helps optimize operating capacity, implement advanced product and process innovations, increase sales, enter new markets and improve profitability. IMEC customizes solutions to address each client’s specific needs, uses training to transfer knowledge and skills to the client’s employees and serves as a mentor and coach to sustain success.

With more than 25 percent of McHenry County’s economic wealth being derived from our manufacturing companies, we clearly need to continue to focus on this sector.

On Nov. 5, the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation will celebrate our 22nd Annual Dinner at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn.

We will again recognize the Business Champion finalists: AptarGroup, Knaack,  Covidien, Curran Group Inc., Watlow, H.S. Crocker, Advanced Flexible Composites, Kold Ban International Ltd., Haiges Machinery, Eisenmann, Camfil, NiMCO Corp., Phoenix Woodworking, Radicom, Effective Product Solutions, Tegel Design Inc. and announce the recipients of the 2013 awards.  

In partnership with Sage Products LLC and Leadership Greater McHenry County, our keynote speaker is Harry Kraemer Jr, a board member of Sage Products LLC, executive director of Madison Dearborn, professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, author of “From Values to Action” and former CEO of Baxter International Inc.

For information on or to purchase tickets for the event, contact the MCEDC at 815-893-0895 or

• Pam Cumpata is president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corp.

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