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Ricketts: Made in Nebraska
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Ricketts: Made in Nebraska

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Last week, I proclaimed October as Manufacturing Month in Nebraska to recognize the great work of our state’s innovators, builders, and creators. While most people recognize agriculture as Nebraska’s top industry, it’s also important to recognize that manufacturing is our second-largest economic sector.

Manufacturing is a big part of growing great opportunities in the Good Life. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, Nebraska’s total output from manufacturing was over $14 billion in 2018. That represents 11.5% of the gross state product. Manufacturing employment in the state is around 100,000, or ten percent of our state’s total nonfarm employment. From medical equipment to administer future coronavirus vaccines to ag processing, Nebraska’s manufacturers are making premium products that build a great quality of life for people around the world.

In the midst of the pandemic, Nebraska’s manufacturers are doing extraordinary things in the life of our nation. This includes helping to deliver a coronavirus vaccine. Through a partnership with the federal government, Becton Dickinson (BD) is investing $70 million to boost its manufacturing capacity in the state. BD is making use of the extra capacity to produce 50 million needles and syringes by December to support coronavirus vaccination in the United States.

Nebraska’s manufacturers are also helping to feed the world. Nebraska is the Silicon Valley of irrigation technology. The vast majority of the world’s center pivot irrigation systems are made here in Nebraska by companies like Lindsay, Reinke, T-L Irrigation, and Valmont. At the beginning of the year, Valmont signed a major agreement to manufacture center pivots for the nation of Kazakhstan in central Asia. Its high-tech machinery is expected to increase crop productivity and lower agricultural costs by fifty percent in Kazakhstan.

Nebraska continues to be a desirable home for food manufacturers. In September, Scoular celebrated the grand opening of its $50-million Petsource facility in Seward to manufacture ingredients for pet food. Petsource is bringing 100 jobs to the Seward community and will be sourced with Nebraska beef, creating opportunities for our state’s ranchers. In South Sioux City last month, Ingredion cut ribbon on a 195,000 square-foot manufacturing facility. The former soy processing plant will be used to extract proteins from peas to make wellness ingredients. Additionally, Hormel Foods has announced that it will open a new manufacturing plant in Papillion, bringing 200 jobs to the area. In August, Vireo broke ground on a $15-million facility in Plattsmouth that will create up to 200 jobs in Cass County. Vireo has had great success commercializing inventions and technologies developed at UNMC. Its manufacturing expertise is helping turn Nebraska brainpower into immune support supplements.

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Nebraska’s manufacturers are even helping to take space exploration to new heights. Royal Engineered Composites in Minden is supporting NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which began on July 30th. As part of the mission, NASA is scheduled to land a rover on Mars in February 2021. Royal Engineered Composites is manufacturing components for NASA’s Atlas V rocket to keep the payload cool on the launch platform.

While Nebraska’s manufacturers are designing and building some cool stuff, they’re also creating great-paying jobs for Nebraskans. On average, manufacturing jobs in the state have an annual compensation of over $66,000. These jobs put food on the table and gas in the tank. They help families to own their own homes and afford healthcare costs. They make it appealing for young Nebraskans to stay in our state after graduation. And they offer the rewarding opportunity to use cutting-edge technologies to create needed products.

Not only do manufacturers bring jobs to our state, they’re also actively equipping the next generation to excel in these careers. The State launched the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) in 2015 to give our state’s students exposure to in-demand careers early on in their education. DYTI fosters partnerships between local employers and schools to promote hands-on career exploration and skills development for middle school students. Through DYTI, Nebraska manufacturers like MetalQuest in Hebron, Reinke in Deshler, Orthman in Lexington, and Cyclonaire in York are providing opportunities for middle school students to get involved in manufacturing. Aside from the influence of parents and friends, students’ experiences are the greatest factor in their choice of career. It’s important to give kids exposure to great career paths early on in life.

Manufacturers across Nebraska, such as CLAAS in Omaha, Aulick Industries in Scottsbluff, and Behlen in Columbus, also partner with high schools and colleges to offer Registered Apprenticeships (RAs) to students. Youth RAs allow high school students to gain on-the-job experience while earning college credits. For high school graduates, RAs offer the opportunity to earn while learning. All RA programs include a classroom learning component, and many employers will pay the way for apprentices who later wish to attain a degree. This arrangement allows them to make money right out of high school and limits their college student debt. As we ramp up these programs, manufacturers will be able to find top-notch talent right in their own backyards.

Nebraska’s manufacturers have been incredibly resilient during 2020. They’ve done excellent work to rearrange physical spaces to keep teammates socially distanced and healthy on the job. They instituted a number of protocols, like face coverings and temperature checks, to ensure healthy workplaces. Many of them have even shifted production to make items urgently needed during the pandemic. For example, Green Plains in York redirected its resources from ethanol production in order to manufacture industrial alcohol for hand santizers. This innovative spirit is helping to get Nebraska growing following the disruptions of coronavirus.

If you’d like to learn more about Nebraska manufacturing, email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244. At the State, we’re committed to giving our manufacturers the tools they need to build a great future for Nebraskans.

Pete Ricketts is the governor of Nebraska.

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