A Look into the Advanced Manufacturing Industry

By: Albert Alwang, Economic Development Manager

Earlier this year, Wake County Economic Development helped establish and began leading an Advanced Manufacturing Strategy Task Force (see previous blog post). This group of regional economic developers, industry leaders, private businesses, K-12 representatives, and higher-education partners set out to:

  1. Determine a collective definition of Advanced Manufacturing in Wake County and the Research Triangle Region.
  2. Understand the best direction for Wake County Economic Development to be an asset to this industry cluster by serving as a storyteller, advocate, and convener of the thought leaders.
  3. Lead and produce marketing collateral and develop a messaging strategy to share with site selectors and companies looking to relocate or expand in Wake County.

This collaborative effort has provided insight and shed some light on what advanced manufacturing means for the Research Triangle region. To highlight this complex industry, we put together a list of what we are learning about regional advanced manufacturing.

Advanced manufacturing is diverse and innovative…

Setting out to define the industry exposed no specific sub-sector or manufacturer as being more advanced than the other. Additionally, size does not predict whether a company fits in the sector. The region has companies as small as three employees using cutting-edge technology in their manufacturing processes. The industry also exposed that the processes companies in the Triangle Region are separating their companies from traditional manufacturers. The convergence of technology with manufacturing allows manufacturers to produce highly customizable products at scale for customers that are demanding quicker turn around on orders.

Other regional industries and assets help grow the ecosystem…

The region’s historical emphasis on research and development has led to our strength in innovative sectors. Life sciences, IT/Technology, and clean technology have placed the region as a competitive place for companies to move and expand, and advanced manufacturing has done the same. We also find R&D across the sectors have led to the discovery of new products that lead to the manufacturing of these products. It is no coincidence that our region has particularly high concentrations of pharmaceutical and medicine, electrical equipment, and computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing.

Assets like our K-12, community colleges, and four-year college systems present another competitive edge to advanced manufacturers. North Carolina State University (NCSU) houses PowerAmerica, which is part of ManufacturingUSA, a public-private network of national institutes leading the research in the sector. NCSU faculty work with private companies to solve problems and develop new processes. Outside of industry R&D, these assets are creating a host of spaces for students in the region to get hands-on training with industry equipment and techniques.

Talent is king and the region has the talent…

Advanced manufacturers are hiring higher-skilled workers as their systems become more complex. Occupations at these companies include software developers, computer network architects, and electrical engineers. These jobs are paying more than $100k annually. This is only a piece of the many occupations that include managers, technicians, and supervisors. The region is producing a substantial amount of talented workers that can be employed in the industry. In the 2017-2018 academic year, the local colleges and universities had more than 22,000 completions in certificates and degrees related to manufacturing employment.

This dynamic industry is playing a role in the current economic success of the region, and we are certain it will be integral in the future of the region.


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