A few good manufacturing jobs

On a Factory Field Trip to new plants in North Carolina, New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera sees the future of manufacturing.

The factories are immense and use complex robotics to make gigantic axles for Caterpillar mining trucks and 280-ton gas turbines for Siemens.

. . .  these plants offer something that has become increasingly rare: middle-class jobs that don’t require a college degree. The jobs pay between $20 and $30 an hour, plus benefits, allowing a skilled machinist to make a decent middle-class living.

The key word, of course, is “skilled.” One reason Siemens and Caterpillar chose North Carolina is that Charlotte and Winston-Salem have community colleges that stress manufacturing skills. In Winston-Salem, Forsyth Tech, a local community college, was involved in wooing Caterpillar and created a program, in cooperation with the company, to make sure its graduates have the machining skills the company needs. Job training was part of the incentives packages that were dangled in front of the companies to lure them to North Carolina.

The U.S. can compete with China in high-tech manufacturing, especially when shipping costs are factored in, a plant manager said.

But the new factories are very efficient, which means they don’t need many workers.

Caterpillar, which is getting an estimated $14 million in incentives, will employ only 500 or so workers in Winston-Salem. Siemens expects to hire no more than 800 people in the Charlotte facility.