Md.'s new manufacturing base

Manufacturing in Maryland has given way from metal work to monoclonal antibodies.

"I refuse to accept the fact that manufacturing jobs are gone for good in Maryland."

— Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.

Those words from our new governor should be music to the ears of many a Marylander. Iconic manufacturers like Bethlehem Steel are every bit the part of Maryland's identity as Earl Weaver, Johnny Unitas and the blue crab.

But boosting manufacturing in Maryland requires acknowledging reality. Steel and other symbols of 20th century manufacturing have given way to products few people imagined a few generations ago: vaccines, monoclonal antibody drugs and advanced computer technologies.

Understanding these changes is key to building a 21st century manufacturing base in Maryland.

To glimpse this new future, drive over to East Lombard Street or South Paca Street in Baltimore. In two facilities employing hundreds of workers, Emergent BioSolutions has built a manufacturing hub for the nation's defense against public health threats ranging from anthrax to pandemic influenza. At the peak of last year's Ebola crisis, Emergent was one of just three companies the federal government asked to draw up plans to manufacture a potentially life-saving drug for patients.

Next drive west to Frederick, where AstraZeneca is manufacturing a drug for the prevention of respiratory infection in infants, as well as other investigational biologic products. The U.K.-based biopharmaceutical company is investing $200 million to expand its Frederick manufacturing center, including 300 new jobs and 40,000 additional square feet.

Lastly drive over to Curtis Bay, where W.R. Grace manufacturers some of the world's most advanced chemicals for industries ranging from oil refining and construction to pharmaceuticals. The Columbia-based global company has invested $82 million in its Maryland facilities and added more than 30 new manufacturing jobs since 2013.

This is clearly not your father's manufacturing base, and the industry's transformation has created challenges. Foremost among them is a shortage of workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As CEO of a nonprofit dedicated to STEM education, I see firsthand how this shortage impacts both employers and students who could be perfect candidates for advanced manufacturing jobs.

Nearly 40 percent of Maryland manufacturers reported difficulties recruiting workers in the last year, and 90 percent of those that did hire had problems finding skilled workers. This glaring gap in workforce development impedes our ability to foster a modernized manufacturing base in Maryland.

To avoid losing advanced manufacturers to other states, Maryland policy makers must prioritize STEM-based workforce development. We must encourage community colleges and technical schools to offer more manufacturing degrees and certifications. Equally important is empowering employers in high growth STEM industries — biologics, cyber and information technology — to partner with colleges and universities to align curriculum with the real world skills students will need when they enter the workforce.

Manufacturing may be changing, but one similarity binds Bethlehem Steel to today's manufacturers: economic opportunity. Beth Steel lifted entire communities into the middle class through the promise of a good paycheck in exchange for honest work. Families sent their kids to college for the first time based on this unparalleled economic security.

I believe today's STEM-based manufacturers represent the same gateway to economic opportunity for many Marylanders. For the Hogan Administration and the new legislature, the challenge is to craft opportunity-based policies that enable manufacturers and workers to prosper together.

Brian Gaines is CEO of MdBio Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing STEM education and workforce development in Maryland and beyond. He can be reached at bgaines@mdbiofoundation.org or on Twitter at @briangaines.

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