Florida Today: Manufacturing Jobs in Brevard County Show Strength
Originally published in Florida Today, March 4, 2012
Given Brevard’s traditional economic strengths, it might raise a few eyebrows to know what sector actually created hundreds of jobs amid the thousands that were lost.
While jobs elsewhere in the economy have vanished, manufacturing jobs in Brevard County have grown in the past 15 months, and industry experts expect that growth to continue.
Manufacturing added about 300 jobs since January 2011, even as the total number of jobs fell by nearly 5,000 over that time.
The national uptick has been even stronger. Following 12 straight years of decline, U.S. manufacturers added 109,000 workers to their payrolls in 2010 and another 237,000 in 2011.
Economists say the increase doesn’t necessarily signal the next golden age of manufacturing but is nonetheless evidence of an important trend. After years of increasing manufacturing losses to China, U.S. manufacturers are taking on the competition and jobs are coming home.
“That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Sean Snaith director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness. “Manufacturing has certainly been a sector of the economy that’s been under siege for some time. But the sector has become much stronger.”
In addition to finding new ways to compete, manufacturers have benefited from rising labor and transportation costs in China. Additionally, skilled aerospace workers from the space industry are available to move into manufacturing jobs, which can help attract businesses.
“Brevard will be strong,” Snaith said. “Average wages will be high in manufacturing.”
Making the right product
U.S. manufacturing companies have targeted niche products that are cheaper to make domestically. That has led to some companies even withdrawing from manufacturing in China for fear that their intellectual property and design secrets will be copied.
‘It just means there is more and more opportunity,” George Moore, president and CEO and president of MC Assembly in Palm Bay, said.
Since December 2010, MC Assembly has hired 384 workers, bringing its workforce to about 1,050 in Palm Bay. Some $10 million was invested in its 230,000 square foot plant on Kirby Circle. With skilled technicians operating robotic machines around the clock, MC Assembly draws from an inventory of 20,000 different kinds of electronic components to create hundreds of electronic circuit boards, components and devices.
By purchasing millions of dollars worth of electronic parts, many of which come from Central Florida companies, the company creates jobs for hundreds of additional workers. “There’s a ripple effect,” Moore said.
During the coming year, electronic industry analysts expect manufacturing to grow in the U.S. and Europe, while it decreases in Asia. Brevard County will be part of, and likely benefit from that shift. “In the next five years, we see the company growing,” Moore said.
Other manufacturers that are growing in Brevard include Arnott Inc., which makes air suspension systems, Mainstream Engineering, which makes a variety of high tech products; AAR, which refurbishes aircraft; Lighting Science, which creates LED lighting systems; and Embraer an aircraft maker.
MC Assembly’s manufacturing operations in Mexico also will grow, but that will help employment in Brevard because the factory in Mexico is overseen and supplied by employees in Palm Bay.
Tension in the Middle East has caused fuel prices to rise. But rising fuel prices, which often slows consumer spending, can help U.S. manufacturers, who benefit when companies seek to avoid transportation costs by moving operations to the U.S. to avoid overseas shipping costs. “It helps us,” Moore said. “That boat costs you more and more to operate.”
The number of manufacturing jobs in Brevard fell by almost a third in the last 20 years. However, the decline in manufacturing jobs stopped in January 2011. More recently, nearly 1,000 manufacturing jobs were posted online for Brevard County during the past 90 days, according to Brevard Workforce.
With Brevard’s connection to the space industry, manufacturing industry jobs could be connected to innovative technologies. Lighting Sciences Group, a pioneer in the field of light emitting diode bulbs, expects to hire 10 to 15 percent more employees this year. But increases in Satellite Beach, where about 250 of its 1,600 worldwide employees work, won’t be manufacturing jobs.
As its global manufacturing operations grow, research and development employees will be hired in Brevard, where new LED lighting products are created and support for global manufacturing operations is coordinated.
The company manufactured 4.5 million LED bulbs last year, the most in North America. It employs more than 50 research scientist and engineers with Ph.Ds or master’s degrees.
“A lot of the jobs we’re adding these days, particularly at the Satellite Beach site, are falling into the engineering, research and design realm,” company spokesman Andy Beck said.