BROOKINGS INSTITUTION Metropolitan Innovation Series
Last month, manufacturers gathered at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark for a roundtable with government officials, educators, and industry leaders. The event spotlighted Essex County manufacturing partnerships and incentive programs and featured testimonials by companies such as Unionwear, which produces hats and bags in Newark’s North Ward. Otis Rolley, chief executive officer of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, told attendees about the resources available to manufacturers seeking to grow within Newark’s borders.
Meanwhile, at Newark Liberty International Airport on the other side of the city, students and faculty from Rutgers Business School were running a kiosk that sells merchandise made by New Jersey artisans and small manufacturers. The kiosk project, called Jersey Bound, complements the work of the Newark Industrial Solutions Center, which is housed at the business school’s Center for Supply Chain Management.
The zeal for product development and manufacturing has deep roots in Newark. For over a century, the city was a pioneer in America’s adoption of new industrialized methods and a production-based economy. Numerous products of global importance were invented in the Newark area, including Thomas Edison’s light bulb and air conditioning. These transformative breakthroughs and favorable policy and regulatory conditions contributed to rising incomes and improved economic security for a growing, skilled middle class. Yet, in recent decades, this knack for scientific discovery and making things has not translated into a more competitive production base and workforce.
Today, the 24-square-mile city of Newark is home to 400 manufacturers employing roughly 10,000 workers, and the greater Newark area is a base for 800 manufacturers, a diverse mix of small and mid-sized businesses largely serving regional markets. Despite some bright spots, greater Newark manufacturing is underperforming on employment and output metrics, as well as on the assimilation of appropriately skilled workers and tools that support product and process innovation. The unfortunate result is that Newark is failing to leverage a host of advantages that could favor small-scale production by design and manufacturing start-ups or by retooled, existing businesses. These advantages include density, ample industrial building stock, proximity to markets and service providers, and enviable logistical assets, including a globally connected airport and the largest maritime complex on the East Coast, Port Newark-Elizabeth.
Encouragingly, the city’s higher education institutions show signs of a focused commitment and invigorated strategies behind next-generation design, research and development, and production, as well as support for manufacturing-career readiness in areas ranging from robotics and digital design to technical operations management and market analysis. There are few manufacturing naysayers in the classrooms or around the seminar tables of University Heights—home to the Rutgers Business School as well as NJIT— or at nearby Essex County College or Newark Tech High School, but rather a growing focus on hands-on learning and industry-centered partnerships. Perhaps the boldest example of this activity is the launch last year of NJIT’s New Jersey Innovation Institute, which strives to align industry, educational, and economic development goals through partnerships and strategic clusters.
The challenge (and opportunity) that University Heights now faces is ensuring that the fruits of its initiatives and collaborations reach the area’s neighborhoods and residents, including through the reactivation of older industrial sites and locally embedded training options. Another key will be stemming the brain drain of qualified students out of the area. These goals are becoming increasingly critical in light of sweeping demographic shifts, including an aging industrial workforce and a youth unemployment crisis, as well as the need for infrastructure upgrades and strategies to manage transformation associated with the ongoing expansion of Port Newark-Elizabeth.
Through inclusive and sustained coordination as well as smart investment, a robust industrial commons is within Newark’s reach—an industrial commons that would make hometown hero Thomas Edison proud.
Nisha Mistry is director of the Urban Law Center at Fordham Law School in New York City. Previously, she served as a visiting fellow at Rutgers Business School and manufacturing advisor with the Department of Economic & Housing Development in Newark, N.J. under the administration of Mayor Cory A. Booker. From 2012 to 2014, Mistry served as a mayor’s office fellow (Office of Mayor Cory A. Booker) and nonresident fellow with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, where she authored a report on manufacturing in Newark.
Why Lean Manufacturing Needs Cloud ERP:
It’s about 10 years since we had our first lean implementation here. It wasn’t until last year that we were able to put the pieces together because we needed to wait for the software to hit the clouds. Legacy systems are really too expensive and too clunky for a company of this size to be able to implement a robust ERP and we wanted something with which we would be able to grow to four times our size.
We also want something that we can add on to if we want to do things like track production, raw material, and efficiency on the factory floor; not all of our production employees use computers but all of them use smartphones and with a cloud based system like Rootstock we can have apps put on to smart phones that our production employees can use to track production, to track receiving, track cutting, track efficiency and things of that nature in real time. We can use that real time data for sales. We can also use, we can also integrate our website with rootstock and populate our product line using materials and processes that we already have costed, have that information flow to the factory using API’s and other new technologies and have our MRP system purchase goods, have work travelers and work tickets and production planning done without having to use any indirect labor or admin staff.
How Cloud ERP Reduces costs:
One of the things we have been able to use Rootstock to do to save cost is to really get a handle on our raw material inventory. We are able to make substitutions of raw materials in bills of material; so that if we are out of this swivel hook we can substitute a different swivel , take a look at what kind of inventory we have, recommends certain kinds of materials to our clients based on availability.
If sales people make recommendations of materials based on availability and cost and it will reduce waste and sting on operations tremendously.
In the future with ERP and the internet of things, we will be able to take orders online and use ecommerce and do many stages of our manufacturing using robotics, picking components and materials, using robotics to put them into bins, using apps to give workers instructions what to do with those bins and tracking production of them.
Unionwear is featured in The City of Newark, NJ’s new promotional video,
Recognize Newark, for our contributions in bringing together and raising the profile of the city’s manufacturers. 3:50 in.
State of Manufacturing in New Jersey: In part 2 of New Jersey, NJ Today’s David Cruz reports on how a public-private partnership is helping Unionwear compete in the international market place.
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