Column: Manufacturers responding to supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages.

The resilience of Washington’s manufacturing businesses is the theme of Association of Washington Business president Kris Johnson’s recent column. Johnson pegs off AWB’s Manufacturing Week bus tour, about which we wrote here.

More than a year-and-a-half into the pandemic, it’s clear that Washington manufacturers are contending with two issues that appear likely to remain with us for some time: supply chain disruption and a growing labor shortage.

Those two issues came up at nearly every stop last month during the Association of Washington Business’ annual bus tour of the state’s manufacturers.

Johnson addresses how business are responding.

Based on what we heard, manufacturers are scrambling to find new suppliers for needed materials, and they’re looking for talent everywhere they can, from high school and college technical skills programs to finding pathways for people who were formerly incarcerated.

Labor force participation, which is tracked by the AWB Institute down to the county level on a database called the Vitals, shows statewide participation at 64.7% in 2020. However, that number may decline in 2021 based on the number of people leaving the workforce.

We don’t expect either of these issues to be solved quickly, but like with most challenges they also bring opportunities. In some cases, the manufacturers we visited last month said they are responding to supply chain issues by looking for suppliers who are closer to home to provide the materials they need. This is one way the manufacturing sector can grow and help Washington achieve the goal of doubling the number of manufacturing firms in 10 years.

And for the young people we encountered at places like West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton, Raisbeck Aviation High School in Tukwila, Wenatchee Valley College, Spokane Community College and WSU Tri-Cities, the current workforce shortage represents unprecedented opportunity to launch into lifelong careers.

He concludes,

No doubt the pandemic has caused major disruption. But manufacturers are resilient — and the future of manufacturing remains bright.

We agree.