Manufacturing Jobs: Industrial Revitalization and Workforce Development


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BWRC hosted its first Breakfast Talk of the academic year, “Manufacturing Jobs: Industrial Revitalization and Workforce Development” on Friday, November 6th. BWRC was joined by a dynamic panel of leaders in the fields of industrial workforce development and urban manufacturing. The morning’s panel discussed the research findings presented in Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s (LISC) report Connecting Local People to the Prosperity of Place: Workforce Development Meets Industrial Revitalization. To moderate the panel, Patricia Voltolini, LISC Senior Research Associate, guided the audience through the key indicators that her team studied when investigating the increasing prominence of small-scale manufacturing and the lack/and or presence of productive job training programs. Highlighting a series of case studies, Voltolini overviewed current best practices being utilized6 by firms and local governments around the country. Highlighting standout programs that have been successful in generating living wage and mobility-focused jobs, Voltolini also noted the persistent structural limitations that impede synergy between manufacturing and stable local employment. Notably, land use and urban zoning policies across the country make it difficult for manufacturers to grow, and remain, in place. In the absence of affordable land, many industrial business owners are forced to relocate, and in so doing, local employment pipelines are disturbed by a net loss of jobs and stymied business growth.

            After Voltolini walked the audience through the current landscape of manufacturing and workforce development, she opened up the conversation to introduce two local leaders who are highlighted within LISC’s Manufacturing Jobs case studies. Jocelynne Rainey, Chief Administrative Officer and EVP of Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, discussed her organization’s innovative approach to pairing cutting-edge manufacturers with highly skilled local employees. Rainey told the story of how early on the BNYDC’s employment center made some strides in connecting Navy Yard business owners with employees from the surrounding waterfront neighborhoods. These efforts led to some collaboration between local residents and new tenant manufacturers, but job placement rates ultimately remained low; only 100 local residents found long-term jobs through the program. Rainey and her team recognized the need to restructure the workforce development programs, especially in light of the Navy Yard’s goal of generating 10,000 jobs by 2020. To do so, BNYDC re-directed the Yard’s employment center and business support services towards a more scalable, skills-specific mission. Through a series of revamps, Rainey’s team is now building out a more locally-rooted employment pipeline by way of refined business outreach services, a robust internship program, and – most recently – the creation of a new Department of Education-sponsored high school. These new workforce innovations that prioritize deep skills-building and tailor business services for commercial tenants have led to rapid success; BNYDC has placed over 500 local residents in jobs within the Yard’s business network.

Following Rainey’s discussion, Voltolini passed the mic to another industrial business leader from Brooklyn’s waterfront. Ben Margolis, Executive Director of Southwest Business Industrial Development Corporation, promotes economic and workforce development among businesses in Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Gowanus. Since its inception in 1978, SBDIC has connected local waterfront industrial businesses with the services and skilled workers they have needed to expand their portfolios. SBDIC’s efforts have been especially important within the waterfront communities where under- and unemployment are consistent challenges: in Red Hook (Census Track 85), unemployment currently rests at around 30 percent. To remedy these persistent employment barriers, Margolis’ team has introduced a number of initiatives that are helping to close the manufacturing “skills gap;” namely, SBDIC has piloted the Maker Space, a community manufacturing and product development studio, as well as robust training programs for workers. Through these efforts, SBIDC is able to train over 1,000 local workers a year, with about 250 of them finding job placements within the waterfront industrial business area. As industrial businesses continue to manage decline in large-scale industrial outfits and growth in small-scale manufacturing, Margolis reminded the audience that advocacy aimed at expanding urban industrial business zones remains critical to the future health of the waterfront’s local employment and business chains.

BWRC was delighted to host this lively panel discussion and will focus more on workforce development within waterfront communities this coming spring, with an eye towards the impact of New York’s impending offshore wind development.