Unionwear and the Louise A. Spencer School in Newark deserve sincere congratulations for winning this year’s video competition, What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? This award, given annually, stimulates the imagination of students, inviting them to pursue careers in manufacturing. Its secondary aim is to boost the profiles of New Jersey’s factories. A range of awards are bestowed by judges in each regional contest, and online votes for the Viewers’ Choice Award are tabulated at WhatsSoCool.org.
In 2013, Allentown Pennsylvania’s Manufacturer’s Research Center (MRC) created the What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? contest, and now hundreds of schools in the region participate. Teams of teachers, coaches, and students receive professional guidance, software, and camera equipment as they learn to edit, record, and script their video stories. The objective? To change students’ perceptions of manufacturing careers.
The winning video, which runs two minutes and 30 seconds, begins with several schoolgirls admiring a shirt worn by one of them and discussing where it came from. Realizing that anything purchased from “the mall” originates from somewhere else, they ponder what goes into the manufacturing process. Enter Unionwear and Mitch Cahn, President. He discusses his manufacturing company and how it works.
The video also features Agi Tamrakar, a recent graduate of NJIT who elaborates on his education and internship with Unionwear. Upon completing his masters, he accepted a permanent, full-time position at Unionwear. Mr. Tamrakar also explores the many facets of the manufacturing industry. The video concludes with the original schoolchildren reiterating how cool manufacturing is. The video is informative and enjoyable, and the performance given by the schoolchildren is admirable.
Dream It, Do It promotes advanced careers in manufacturing for educators, adult family members, and students. Dream It, Do It is a companion of the What So Cool About Manufacturing? video contest and provides career resources. Additionally, Dream It, Do It selects and manages a dream team of dynamic manufacturing professionals. This team makes presentations at community locations and schools for students and teachers.
Hon. Mayor Ras J. Baraka: We need economic growth and job creation. We need a trained workforce to fill those jobs. We believe that manufacturing and advanced manufacturing is a large component of that growth. We are going to organize our resources to begin investing and expanding our manufacturing base and training our workforce to accept those jobs. In the first week of May we are hosting a Manufacturing Conference partnering with Mitch Cahn of Unionwear, NJIT and the NJ EDA to help identify best practices, develop a point person from City Hall and to help grow the manufacturing industry in our city. We are also asking that every major anchor corporation, business and public entity begin to identify their partners that they do business with and begin with the help of economic incentives from this city to encourage manufacturers to relocate their shops to Newark as we have a stronger infrastructure than any other municipality in this region for manufacturing and advanced manufacturing. We want them to come here, develop here, grow here and we will train our residents for these jobs.
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.
Unionwear is featured in this video for Maker’s Row / Newark, a site for sourcing local cut and sew contractors.
The video was launched at an event on May 28, when Unionwear CEO Mitch Cahn spoke at a Brookings Institution panel along with Mayor Cory Booker and NJIT President Joel Bloom on Newark’s Manufacturing Moment, discussed here in NJ Biz Magazine:
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.
Getting all the stakeholders on board is critical in push to help manufacturing expand.
Newark’s infrastructure and geographic advantages have drawn manufacturing to the city, but the Made in Newark movement says there are challenges, too. – (Photo By AARON HOUSTON)
Newark has become New Jersey’s urban manufacturing laboratory, as the Brick City engages stakeholders from business, government and education to help employers thrive while churning out products from clothing to chemicals, to paintbrushes and mattresses.
A key milestone in the three-year-old Made in Newark movement came in May, with the release of a Brookings Institution study that found Newark has drawn a cluster of diverse manufacturers that benefit from the city’s favorable geographic location, as well as its international port, rail and highway connections. But it also pinpointed serious challenges that can blunt Newark’s competitive edge: an aging workforce, insufficient investment in innovation and sustainability, and poor participation in regional and global markets.
Brookings fellow Nisha Mistry, a co-author of the report who also is an aide to Mayor Cory Booker, said Newark has a real concentration of manufacturing assets; getting them to perform more efficiently “will require the active involvement of many voices and institutions.”
Stakeholders looking to Newark’s manufacturing renaissance are hoping their involvement helps accomplish that. Among them are the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which wants to educate the next generation of shop floor leaders, and Rutgers Business School, which is launching the state’s first urban manufacturing resources hub through its supply-chain management program; both campuses are in Newark. The state Department of Labor’s advanced manufacturing talent network, launched in 2011 at NJIT, is working with all stakeholders, including community colleges and technical high schools, to train a pipeline of manufacturing workers in the skills needed on a computerized factory floor. The Newark Regional Business Partnership also is a major supporter of the city’s manufacturing initiative.
That level of involvement was the kind of thing Mitch Cahn envisioned when he helped launch the Made in Newark support group in 2011, with the help of Booker’s economic development team.
At the time, “I thought maybe there were a dozen manufacturers in town,” said Cahn, who launched his Unionwear apparel company in 1992 and has been in Newark for 12 years, where he now employs 110. When a research effort turned up 400 manufacturers in the city, “I was shocked,” he said.
Manufacturers, he said, have found “Newark is at the intersection of inexpensive space and abundant skilled labor.” But they tend to underfly the radar, because while they may employ a couple hundred people, they work in nondescript buildings scattered throughout the city. It’s hoped that the partnership with Newark’s universities can help power further growth in the sector.
“It’s very difficult to hire management in manufacturing, because individuals coming out of engineering schools and business school were not preparing for jobs in the manufacturing sector over the past 20 years,” said Cahn, who said his company makes baseball caps, backpacks and other textile products for companies seeking items made in America, including political campaigns, labor unions and the military. “Now that manufacturing is roaring back here, there’s a big gap.”
The challenge is finding factory managers who understand both manufacturing processes and new technology, he said: “In certain positions, we hire two people — someone with technological expertise and someone with manufacturing expertise — and hope they can work together.”
NJIT is eager to train the new factory management, said Donald Sebastian, its senior vice president for research and development. He said NJIT has long been committed to manufacturing: In 1995, he launched the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, which provides consultants to manufacturers to help them boost efficiency, provide training and develop new product lines. Originally housed at NJIT, today NJMEP is an independent nonprofit in Morris Plains.
“We’ve never stopped beating the drum to get people to understand that we have to be a producer country, and this needs to be a producer state,” Sebastian said. “People have gotten back to the business of understanding that we need to make the things that we consume and that we sell, and that innovation is not just about clever products — it’s about cleverness in producing those products.”
Sebastian said NJIT is considering an undergraduate program to prepare engineers for manufacturing. He said industry is evolving, and factory leaders must be prepared to manage rapid changes in product life cycles.
“Small and midsized companies have to be part of the design process, they have to be part of the innovation and thought process,” Sebastian said. Years ago, an auto parts supplier might make the same General Motors part for a decade. “Now, you may be a supplier to three or four automotive manufacturers, and those platforms change on a three-year time cycle — you can’t do the same thing over and over and over again.”
He said NJIT hopes to convene groups of Newark industrial firms and help them “develop a sense of identity and community, and chart a course for growth.”
Gale Tenen Spak, associate vice president of continuing and distance education at NJIT, said the university is exploring ways to replenish the pipe of “technologists” — workers with the training and credentials for advanced manufacturing’s computer-driven workplace. One idea is for workers to take “stackable” industry-vetted courses leading to credentials “that are accepted for an associate’s degree leading to bachelor’s degree. Then, you have the ability for individuals to have that long-term career with a family-sustaining income.”
Meredith Aronson, who for the past two years has headed the state’s advanced manufacturing talent network, said the Brookings report revealed “food and textiles are substantial and important manufacturing activities in Newark,” and recognized that “we are not performing as aggressively as we need to in Newark with regards to exports.”
And while it may be difficult to find large parcels of land to locate a factory in Newark, the city could attract high-tech factories that need less space: “I see opportunity for urban or metro-focused manufacturing, because the footprint can be smaller in many cases” and they can tap the urban workforce, she said.
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Unionwear was featured in the State of New Jersey’s Economic Development Guide, for their commitment to lean manufacturing and public / private partnerships.
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.
BCDC – Newark, It’s Your Move: Newark Highlight video for Brick City Development Starring: Chip Hallock – Newark Regional Business Partnership, Dr Lezli & Chris Harvell – DentalKidz, Don Katz – Audible.com, Mitch Cahn – Unionwear, Joe Taylor – Panasonic Corporation, Dr dt ogilvie – Rutgers Business School, Marketing Agency/Art Direction – Princeton Partners, Video Production – Visitivity Media.
‘Made in Newark’ initiative hopes to introduce visitors to city’s businesses, locally made products: Newark – Activity buzzed inside a nondescript, one-story manufacturing building near Newark’s Branch Brook Park. Workers from Unionwear carefully cut zippers to length for royal blue gym bags emblazoned with a block-lettered “Made in Newark” logo on the side.