Maryland’s manufacturers took significant strides over the past year adopting technologies boosting their competitiveness with enterprises from countries like China that benefit from an abundance of low-cost labor.Makers’ willingness to embrace digital and non-digital technologies served local producers well in 2022, Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland President Mike Galiazzo said, ahead of his organization’s Champions of Manufacturing event which was held Thursday, Nov. 17. “Manufacturers are adopting new digital technologies that allow them to be more efficient and productive,” Galiazzo said. Technological advances in manufacturing, he said, boost the sector in various ways, ranging from competitive advantages to luring more women and minorities to work in the industry. Maryland makers’ incorporation of new technology also strengthened the diversity of emerging manufacturing fields, Galiazzo said, including biotech and defense companies not traditionally considered manufacturers. “There’s such a diversity of products that are coming out of Maryland companies,” he said. In 2020, the most recent Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership data available, the state’s top manufacturing fields by Gross Domestic Product were chemical manufacturing, computer electronics manufacturing, and food and tobacco manufacturing. Machinery manufacturing and what the report calls miscellaneous manufacturing rounded out the top five. Industrialists in the state, according to the same data, outpaced national GDP growth dating back to 2015. While the nation, on average, experienced a decline in manufacturing GDP due to the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland manufacturing avoided a notable decline. According to the state’s analysis of federal labor data, manufacturing wages also outpaced the national average. Manufacturing employees in Maryland, on average, earned more than $40 an hour compared to the national average of roughly $35 an hour. However, Maryland’s producers still need help to expand the industry’s role in the local economy. The biggest challenge facing makers, Galiazzo said, is filling available jobs. Maryland’s available labor force, since 2019, has plummeted, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the national average rebounded after a low point in 2020, the size of the labor force in Maryland fell to its lowest level since 2016. As of 2021, Maryland estimated its labor force to be about 3.17M. State residents between 25 and 34 represented the largest pool of available employees. They represent about 22% of the state’s workforce, which aligns with the national average. The most notable gap between Maryland’s workforce and the national average is with workers between the ages of 35 and 44. Nationally workers in that age group make up 21.5% of the workforce, while in Maryland, that group accounts for about 19% of workers. Each month thousands of jobs at Maryland manufacturers go unfilled, Galiazzo said. He attributed the struggle to fill those jobs to a lack of awareness about their availability and not employees lacking the requisite skills. For example, Galiazzo said his firm participated in a virtual job fair in Baltimore County with 16 manufacturing firms looking to fill more than 300 positions. “We had over 250 people participate in the virtual job fair, and we still had trouble filling the void,” he said. Outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, Galiazzo said, has done an admirable job promoting manufacturing’s role in the state economy. However, there’s still a need for improvement. Recent conversations with elected officials, including Governor-elect Wes Moore, Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman and Senate President Bill Ferguson, left Galiazzo confident a change in government will not impact support in Annapolis for promoting manufacturing. “Maryland can be a national showcase for next-generation manufacturing. But we need to be able to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and then update workers’ skills to work in those tech-savvy environments,” Galiazzo said.