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Survey says

John Seelmeyer

Manufacturers in the Reno area plan heavy investment in new equipment during the next three years, and employment in the sector is likely to continue to grow.

A just-completed survey of 28 manufacturing companies by the Economic Development Authority ofWestern Nevada finds the companies plan $125.8 million in capital investment during the next three years.

The companies plan to add about 385,000 square feet of manufacturing space, but the largest part of their capital investment will be purchases of equipment, said Gail Conkey, EDAWN’s director of business services.

The new equipment includes robotics, quality-control systems and technology to meet new demands in distribution.

Nearly 40 percent of the companies surveyed by EDAWN said their use of technology is changing.

Conkey noted, however, that manufacturers project their employment will continue to grow even as they install equipment that is designed to streamline their operations.

The companies surveyed said they expect to add 388 jobs during the next three years.

And that comes on top of some 839 jobs added by the 28 manufacturers from 2001 through 2004.

Washoe County is expected to see annual growth of about 2.2 percent in manufacturing employment through this decade, says the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

At the start of this year, 14,100 people worked in manufacturing in the county 6.5 percent of the county’s workforce.

“While it’s not stupendous, it’s very solid,” Conkey said of the growth of manufacturing jobs.

In fact, none of the manufacturers surveyed by EDAWN said they plan to reduce employment.About a quarter said they plan to add staff.

More important, Conkey said, is the steady upward movement of manufacturing jobs into areas that require higher skill.

“We’re looking at a much higher quality of jobs now,” the EDAWN executive said.

And that’s reflected in a finding that 79 percent of the companies surveyed by EDAWN offer training programs, and 64 percent of them are increasing their training budgets.

The quality of manufacturing operations in the region, Conkey said, is likely to help determine the sector’s strength.Across the nation,manufacturing jobs have been lost overseas, and Nevada at times has been the only state to add manufacturing employment in recent years.

Investments in technology and skilled workers, Conkey said, help protect northern Nevada manufacturers who focus on highquality, high-skill work that is less likely to move offshore.

Manufacturers in the area continue to give high marks to their work force for productivity and stability, Conkey said.

Quality of the workforce gets slightly lower marks, and manufacturers like almost every other employer said it’s difficult to find workers in a market where unemployment is about 3 percent.

That tight labor market is reflected in high turnover in entry-level jobs, lower number of applicants and lack of workers in skilled trades, the manufacturers said.

Tight labor supplies are among the barriers that manufacturers perceive as they consider growth in Washoe County.Among the other potential barriers are transportation costs to the East Coast, rising costs of living and lack of space for expansion.

On the other hand,manufacturers said they like the tax climate in Nevada, believe the region’s educational institutions are improving and view their proximity to California as a strong point.

As the Legislature begins meeting in Carson City,manufacturers were divided on whether the legislative session will help them.

Fifty percent said they expected positive effects; 39 percent expected negative fallout from the session.

The survey released by EDAWN last week marks the second time the economic development agency has talked with manufacturers as part of a campaign to solve issues bedeviling existing industries in the area.

A survey a year ago which didn’t necessarily involve the same companies as the most recent study found that 61 manufacturers planned capital investment of $55 million.

That’s less than half the figure reported by the 28 companies surveyed this time around.