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Manufacturing convention highlights ‘strong and struggling’ part of North Carolina's economy

Image of Toyota Plant in Indiana.
Kurt Weber
Wikimedia Commons
The Japanese automaker is building a $1.3 billion battery plant in Randolph County.

Leaders in North Carolina manufacturing are gathering for an annual convention in Durham this week.

For businesses that make things, Phil Mintz sums it up this way.

“Manufacturing is very strong, but strong and struggling,” he said.

Mintz is director of the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership at N.C. State University, which is putting on the conference, MFGCON.

“There's a lot of orders to be had,” he said. "But there's just some difficulties, of course filling those orders.”

Like many industries, Mintz says manufacturers are having trouble hiring and retaining workers. Speakers at this week’s conference will talk about apprentices, and other ways to train factory employees. Attendees will also get to learn about Toyota’s management philosophy, known as Kata. The Japanese automaker is building a $1.3 billion battery plant in Randolph County.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs make up about 10% of North Carolina’s workforce, compared to about 27% in 1990. Furniture and textile-making dominated the state’s economy for decades. In rural communities, many of which were one-industry towns, Mintz says there’s often a stigma attached to factory work.

“The ways that we make things now is a lot different than it used to be,” he said. “We still have to work on the parents and older generations that are telling the kids that manufacturers are probably not a good industry to work in.”

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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