You may not see too many labels that say “Made in the USA” anymore, but that doesn’t mean manufacturing in America has gone away. On the contrary, the USA is still the world’s largest manufacturer, and New Jersey is one of the leading manufacturing states. But to see the power of the state’s industry, you have to look deeper than the label.
“New Jersey is a supply chain state,” says Cliff Lindholm, president and CEO of Passaic-based Falstrom Company. “We do not make finished products. Most of what we make goes into other things, so it’s part of an assembly, or part of a larger manufactured product.”
Falstrom is one of many companies that has exhibited its wares at the annual “Made in New Jersey Day,” held Thursday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the State House in Trenton. The event is an opportunity for manufacturers to showcase their products for lawmakers, reporters, and members of the public who wander by. For more information, visit www.njbia.org. The goal of the event is to raise awareness of the state’s thriving manufacturing sector, which accounts for about 14 percent of its economy.
Falstrom, which makes highly specialized equipment cases, is a good example of the kind of company that now makes things in New Jersey. It is relatively small, highly specialized, and it uses advanced, computer-controlled methods to make its products.
Lindholm says it is a great time to get into manufacturing. With transportation costs rising and domestic energy costs falling, it’s a good time for companies to think about making products close to home instead of overseas, he says. But getting into the business isn’t as simple as dusting off the 20th-century relics of the industrial age that dot the landscape.
Get smart: Lindholm believes manufacturing can be a good career choice. But gone are the days when someone could drop out of high school and go to work at a factory. With computer-controlled manufacturing, every job at a factory demands advanced skills. “Individuals who work on the factory floor have a good grasp of mathematics,” he says. “They have to look at blueprints, make calculations, say, for the amount of sheet metal they need to make something, and they have to be able to use measuring instruments very precisely.”
Lindholm says wielding a tape measure or a laser caliper is a good skill to have, but a modern factory worker needs good communications skills in addition to technical abilities. “Everything is about working as part of a team now,” he says. “You have to be able to share your ideas, because that’s how innovation occurs.”
An entry-level position at a factory pays about $30,000, and skilled machinists can earn triple digits, Lindholm says. But those jobs are out of reach for the uneducated. He says to work in his factory, no four-year degree is required, but post high-school technical education is a must.
Find a niche: Falstrom was founded by a Swedish immigrant named Gustav Falstrom, who made gutters, roofs, cornices, and almost anything else out of sheet metal. Falstrom probably wouldn’t recognize the products his company makes today, nor would the average person on the street. “What’s really allowed us to stay in business over the years is going from ‘We’ll make anything out of sheet metal that you can dream up’ to having a very specific skill set and a specific type of customer,” Lindholm says. Falstrom makes parts that require a high degree of precision — cases that hold sensitive electronics and machinery. One of its major clients is the military.
This is typical of today’s manufacturing climate. “Most manufacturers here in the state of New Jersey have a niche,” Lindholm says. “Manufacturers in New Jersey have an expertise , they have a specific skill set, and they have a specific product that allows them to stand out among the competition.”
Efficiency is key: As it has been from the beginning, efficiency is the key to a successful manufacturing business. Sadly for the job market, this means producing more with a smaller workforce. This also means companies need to find employees who have a great deal of flexibility. “We need employees that have the ability to manage lots of jobs,” he says. “We can’t afford to hire an employee who can only do a small function.”
Lindholm grew up in Essex County. He is the fourth generation of his family to run Falstrom. Lindholm earned a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College. For a time after college, he considered a career in mental health services before returning to the family business. “While mental health work is valuable and important work, I really felt I would be able to benefit more and help more people by working in the family business,” he says. He earned an MBA from Rutgers, then went back to work at Falstrom, becoming CEO in 2004.
Lindholm hopes events like Made in New Jersey Day will help people realize how important manufacturing is, even if it’s hard to find Made in New Jersey products on the shelves. About 250,000 people work in manufacturing in the state.
“We as a nation really need to keep that skill of manufacturing and keep the ability to make things here so that we don’t get subject to some of the crises that are going on right now in foreign countries,” he says.