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Manufacturing Day shines light on vital part of U.S. economy

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Monday, Sept. 28, marked the beginning of Manufacturing Week. The Covid-19 pandemic is putting a damper on the usual Manufacturing Day festivities in Watertown, including school visits, facility tours and the popular Manufacturing Olympics, where local companies enter teams of workers to compete in fun events.

Instead, companies are focusing on recognizing and celebrating the hard work and dedication of their employees and shining a spotlight on jobs.

Eric H

Eric Henkensiefken

Eric Henkensiefken, Operations Manager at Persona’s main Watertown location, knows first-hand how rewarding a manufacturing career can be. Persona is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020. Over that time, it has grown to four locations and produces around 7,000 signs annually for some of the nation’s largest businesses.

“Virtually everything we touch in our lives comes from manufacturing,” Henkensiefken said. “There are so many different things that manufacturing involves. It’s not going away. It never will.”

“Manufacturing isn’t the dirty, dingy 1920s anymore,” Persona’s Henkensiefken said. “We cleaner, we’re safer and we understand people more.”

There are currently more than 425 manufacturing job openings in South Dakota.

The Manufacturing sector accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product and approximately 8.9 percent of South Dakota’s GDP. In Codington County, nearly one-fourth of all workers are employed by privately owned manufacturing companies. And that number has grown by 7.3 percent over the past five years, outpacing the state’s 5.6 percent growth in manufacturing workers.

The significance is even greater in Lake County, where manufacturing makes up 27.1 percent of private payrolls. Lake County, which has seen its manufacturing jobs grow by 4.3 percent over the past five years, is the home of Persona’s Madison facility. Persona is one of 27 manufacturing facilities in the Lake County, totaling well over 1,000 workers.

More than 12 million people are employed by manufacturing companies in the U.S, and the number of jobs is expected to swell by 4.6 million by the end of the decade.

Manufacturing is so hot in South Dakota that more than 3,000 additional jobs will be created by 2020, according to statistics from the Watertown Development Company.

In fact, the sign industry, in which Persona is a major player, was designated as “critical infrastructure” by the U.S. government because it enables so many “essential businesses” to operate. Signs and graphics help communicate vital information to the public during the pandemic.

Manufacturing careers are well-paying and have great benefits. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation says 92 percent of manufacturing jobs offer health insurance, compared with only 79 percent of all jobs.

Henkensiefken noted another benefit of pursuing a manufacturing career.

“There was a time in U.S. history when it was a little easier and a little more economical to get a college degree,” he said. “Nowadays, that’s not the case. A lot of kids come out of college and live in debt for decades.

“In addition, just about every community of a certain size has some kind of manufacturing. You can pretty much go anywhere you want and have a successful career. You can’t say that with some college degrees.”

There is also an inherent camaraderie of working in manufacturing.

“Of all the different industries you could be in,” he said, “in manufacturing, no matter how large or small the company, it’s the best representation of a team environment. I need my engineering team, my planning team, my purchasing team, my marketing team.”

Manufacturing Day in the United States occurs every year on the first Friday in October. New Jersey proclaimed the first official Manufacturing Day in 2012 and President Barack Obama signed the Presidential Proclamation in 2014.  It has since grown to encompass Manufacturing Week. In addition, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, has also been designated as National Sign Manufacturers Day.