For decades now, the popular picture that’s been painted of upstate New York manufacturing has told a story of lost jobs, abandoned factories, and declining communities. So as a slate of regional economic development councils created as part of this year’s state budget begins to focus on ways to rebuild, reenergize and restructure the state economy, one of the key questions will likely be this one: is there still a place for manufacturing?

For decades now, the popular picture that’s been painted of upstate New York manufacturing has told a story of lost jobs, abandoned factories, and declining communities. So as a slate of regional economic development councils created as part of this year’s state budget begins to focus on ways to rebuild, reenergize and restructure the state economy, one of the key questions will likely be this one: is there still a place for manufacturing?


Let’s hope the answer is a resounding yes. Because while one widely held perception might view manufacturing as a lost cause, the facts are still trying to tell a very different — and much more optimistic — story. The decline of manufacturing has been undeniable in many once-proud upstate cities and towns, but the broader picture’s not without hope.


Just over a year ago, for example, the Syracuse-based Manufacturers Association of Central New York, which represents approximately 350 businesses and 55,000 workers across 19 upstate counties, launched a new public policy arm called the “Manufacturing Research Institute of New York State.”


The Institute’s inaugural report, “Twenty First Century Manufacturing: A Foundation of New York’s Economy,” included this summary: “Despite reduced employment counts, manufacturing remains a foundation of New York’s economy. Communities across Upstate are especially dependent on local factories, often for more than 25 percent of all private-sector payrolls. New York’s manufacturing sector is not as large proportionally as those in most other states — yet its high rate of value added in production and high-paid jobs make it possible for the state to retain its position as a national industrial leader.”


The report and a subsequent study that surveyed the suggestions and thoughts of 100 of New York’s top manufacturing executives (both of which can be found online at www.mrinys.org) provide an interesting and valuable historical and modern perspective on manufacturing’s importance to regional economies statewide — especially, it’s important to note, in our own Southern Tier. It serves to raise awareness of the key changes that this sector has undergone, but also stresses the relevant place it continues to offer for the future. As one top MACNY official said in testimony before the Legislature’s fiscal committees earlier this year, summarizing the survey’s conclusions, “An underlying message should be clear: (manufacturers) are here, they are doing business, and despite a difficult business climate, they want to continue doing business here. These businesses and our sector as a whole are ready and willing to turn this climate around, together, one step at a time.”


A similar note was sounded earlier this year by the Public Policy Institute, the research arm of The Business Council of New York State. Its study, “Let’s Make it Here: Keys to a Manufacturing Resurgence in New York,” fully acknowledged the challenge but also sounded a hopeful note. The study (which you can find on www.ppinys.org) also concludes that manufacturing remains critical to state economic growth and job creation: “Making New York a frontrunner in this industry is crucial to the economic health of our state. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, for each dollar spent on manufacturing another $1.41 is generated in other sectors of the economy. Manufacturing also provides well paying jobs, especially in upstate New York, where the average manufacturing wage is $54,181. Massive state and local tax burdens, however, coupled with overly rigorous environmental standards have discouraged growth in the sector.”


The overriding importance of these studies is twofold. First, each very clearly sounds the alarm on the challenges ahead. We can never be reminded enough on that front.


But secondly, they offer still timely reminders that while the upstate manufacturing sector has undergone rapid change over the past generation, it remains a crucial segment of the overall state economy and, most critically, a foundation on which to build a better, stronger future. That’s a message that needs to keep resonating across New York government which, as so many of us have said time and time again, has a vital role to play in helping to create the kind of favorable economic climate in which manufacturing can be renewed and thrive again.