Despite job losses over the past two decades and a few major employers leaving the area, the manufacturing industry remains a vital piece of the economic puzzle in Cayuga County.
According to statistics from the New York state Department of Labor, Cayuga County had approximately 2,900 manufacturing jobs in December 2012 — down from a peak of about 4,600 jobs in December 1997 and a drop from levels before the recession.
"We are still not at pre-recession levels for the manufacturing industry in Cayuga County," said Karen Knapik-Scalzo, an associate economist with the state Department of Labor. "Pre-recession, in December 2008, we had 3,500 jobs. In December 2009, we fell to 3,100. We saw a little uptick in December 2010 and December 2011, with 3,200 in each of those years for the December levels."
But even with the decline in the number of jobs, manufacturing remains one of Cayuga County's top industries.
Manufacturing jobs account for 11 percent of the total nonfarm jobs in the county, according to the state Labor Department. A few local companies like Currier Plastics are expanding their operations, while other manufacturers like McQuay International and Nucor Steel remain major employers.
Andrew Fish, executive director of the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, said Cayuga County has always been a strong manufacturing community and while the county has lost its share of manufacturing jobs, the national and state losses are worse.
"Historically, across the country, manufacturing jobs are down 20 to 24 percent. In Cayuga County, we've only seen that drop by 16 or 17 percent," Fish said. "A lot of that has to do with strong innovation from the small business owners, as well as commitment from the large corporations here."
Moving forward, one of the challenges manufacturing companies face is finding workers with the right skills.
Manufacturers Association of Central New York President Randy Wolken said having a skilled workforce for area manufacturers is the "most critical challenge."
Currently, there are companies in central New York with open positions, Wolken said, but they can't find enough skilled workers to fill the posts.
"Increasingly, companies will locate and stay where they have a sufficient amount of skilled labor — welders, machinists and those who can operate advanced technology," he said. "But they can't find enough workers. We have companies who would hire 10 or 15 employees if they could find the right people."
Fish also recognized the need to find more skilled workers to fill jobs at local manufacturing companies.
"One of the biggest challenges is that we can't find people to fill the jobs. They can't find the right fits. We need to do a better job of filling the workforce," he said.
One incentive that may encourage more to acquire the skills necessary for these jobs: Money.
In 2011, the average wages in Cayuga County's manufacturing industry was $51,133, according to statistics from the state Department of Labor.
Knapik-Scalzo said the high paying jobs only add to manufacturing's regional importance.
"Manufacturing is still an important industry sector here in Cayuga County and, with the wages, it's a good paying industry sector locally," she said. "It's an important part of our local economy."