A Publication of WTVP

Arguably, the development of new technologies is the major driver of the powerful industry trends impacting manufacturing right now. Emerging technologies can be perceived as threatening, resulting in the elimination of jobs. But the reality is new technologies will enable increased production with a higher level of workforce sophistication. The resulting jobs will be head-of-household jobs that can't be exported as easily.

To some extent, many U.S. companies have accepted this evolution. Some communities, however, haven't braced for the impact of the advanced manufacturing process.

Many communities fear the application of new technologies that change the processes of local manufacturers and express continuing concerns that technology will replace workers. This fear and the entrenchment that accompanies it are ineffective and detrimental. The result will be stagnant growth and continuing decline in the manufacturing industry.

Such outcomes can't and won't be the case in the greater Peoria region. Many companies are taking the changes in stride, successfully adapting to the trends and, in some cases, taking full advantage of them.

Our community is beginning to rally around the platform that technology, innovation, and advances in customer value will be the key to manufacturing growth in the greater Peoria region. The Vision 2020 plan contains specific strategies related to the development of the specialized manufacturing region. In addition, IMEC recently hosted a conference for Illinois manufacturers and internationally respected industry experts to examine ways to adapt and thrive in changing times.

Civic engagement will only carry the industry so far, however. Without motivation, commitment, and investment from the private sector, the economic results will be minimal at best. Fortunately for central Illinois, a cluster of recent manufacturing-related announcements shows there's much to celebrate in regional manufacturing.

Homeway Homes announced a $5 million manufacturing expansion that will create up to 50 new jobs. The development could produce up to 150 jobs over the course of the next few years, and it represents a local company's expansion and growth into the manufacturing industry.

Radian Communication Services announced the acquisition of assets related to the tower and tower accessory manufacturing operation of ROHN Industries, Inc. Since the acquisition in December 2003, manufacturing operations of ROHN have returned to Peoria after being moved to Frankfort, Ind., in early 2003. Radian has been able to retain all of the Peoria-based engineering, drafting, quoting, and field sales personnel. As manufacturing is being rebuilt, they've been able to add many plant personnel, outside sales, and a construction manager.

The most recent local announcement involved the spin-off of a new local manufacturing company in Pekin. Representing an investment of $3 million, Excel Crusher Technologies is estimated to generate up to 25 new jobs over the course of the next 18 months. They'll operate in a new 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art production facility to design and manufacture heavy-duty rock crushers for global distribution.

These three announcements and the continued durability and innovation of other local manufacturers throughout central Illinois demonstrate that manufacturing can thrive and grow in our region. In a very real way, this is where the strategies of Peoria NEXT intersect. Beyond the laboratory and R&D facility, technological innovations are being integrated into the processes taking place on our plant floors and in our machine shops. Our workforce has the opportunity to grow and evolve with these innovations, maintaining the power of manufacturing employment in a new and powerful way.

Manufacturing isn't what it used to be. In today's world, it can't be. Our community must work together to ensure the future of American manufacturing. We must ensure that manufacturing remains a strong presence in our community and that these three announcements aren't isolated occurrences.

Do three manufacturing success stories indicate a trend? Maybe. But they do indicate manufacturing can survive and thrive in our region. IBI