Are folks in the Tampa Bay area uninterested in manufacturing jobs because they don't know much about them or hold outdated views of such "blue collar" work?
Or do people yawn because they see the number of area manufacturing jobs shrinking and doubt the industry is a good career bet?
Welcome to the great dilemma of Tampa Bay economic development leaders. While eager to preserve and upgrade workforce skills at area manufacturers, they know such jobs peaked in 2000 at over 90,000 only to shrink dramatically to today's total of just under 58,000.
Such is the economic pickle behind Monday's release of an analysis of the skill gaps among the area workforce for manufacturing jobs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Many manufacturers here say they are unable to grow if they cannot find qualified workers for key positions.
The study, backed by county economic development and workforce training groups, offers several recommendations:
• Better publicize area manufacturing job opportunities.
• Increase internships and apprenticeships.
• Improve the coordination efforts of industry, education and government.
But will these ideas boost area manufacturing? When Florida's 7.1 percent unemployment rate for July was reported Friday, we also learned Florida lost 2,100 manufacturing jobs in the past year.
Tampa Bay has suffered manufacturing job cuts this year from companies like Cobham, a defense firm in St. Petersburg; Creonix, an electronics manufacturer in Bradenton; and DSE, a high-tech ammunition maker in Tampa.
In the past 20 years, the U.S. manufacturing sector has lost about 5 million jobs.
Still, the Hillsborough-Pinellas workforce recommendations may prove timely.
On Thursday, Wal-Mart will host 500 suppliers in Orlando to discuss its "commitment" to leading an American renewal in manufacturing by buying more U.S.-made goods.
The prominent Boston Consulting Group argues U.S. manufacturing is about to come roaring back. The firm is expected to release a report Tuesday that predicts rising exports and "reshoring" — in this case, the return of manufacturing jobs once outsourced overseas.
That reversal will be fueled by lower U.S. energy costs and stagnant wages and could add up to 5 million U.S. factory and service jobs tied to increased manufacturing by 2020.
Monday's report (manufacturingskillsgap.com), with the not-so-catchy title of "Hillsborough-Pinellas Manufacturing Gap Analysis," says the timing of its recommendations are critical because "American manufacturers have … begun reshoring."
"Having an experienced manufacturing workforce is frequently cited as a deciding factor for employers considering major expansions or relocations," says Mike Meidel, Pinellas economic development director.
Here's the challenge. Area manufacturing jobs plateaued at just under 60,000 in 2010. If this regional industry cannot regrow some of its lost jobs, what happens to the young people who trained for manufacturing careers? They may be forced to find work elsewhere.
That's hardly the outcome we're looking for.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tampa Bay's manufacturing workforce today