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Workforce, Cybersecurity, and Supply Chain Among Hot Topics at 2024 MFGCon

| Manufacturing

This week, manufacturers, workforce training professionals, economic development organizations, and many others from the diverse network supporting manufacturing across North Carolina convened at the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP) and Business North Carolina’s annual North Carolina Manufacturing Conference (MFGCon).  

NC Chamber Foundation Sr. Director of Infrastructure Competitiveness Dana Magliola was also in attendance and provided the following recap.  

An engaging convening of stakeholders in North Carolina’s manufacturing and supply-chain ecosystem, the MFGCon agenda featured topics ranging from supplier development to modernization to workforce training, recruiting and retention. The NCMEP also took the opportunity to publicly release their new report on manufacturing modernization, Best Practices for Growing Manufacturing in North Carolina, Essentials for Success in Industry 4.0, produced through a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Commerce. 

Building Stronger Domestic Supply Chains 

With many facing increasing transportation costs, an unpredictable landscape of tariffs, and other restrictions for international sourcing, manufacturers were introduced to resources for developing trusted suppliers and manufacturing partners to build out their domestic supply chain.  

  • The NCMEP’s Manufactured in NC database can be searched by industry code, characteristics, or capabilities.  
  • NCMEP is now the clearinghouse for Build America/Buy America waivers and proactive domestic supplier matching program, a federally supported effort tied to their designation as North Carolina’s manufacturing extension service.  

Corning Emphasizes Global Strategy 

NC Chamber Cornerstone member and NC Chamber Foundation NC Leads investor Corning provided the keynote address.  John McGirr, senior vice president and general manager of Corning Incorporated’s Optical Fiber and Cable Division, focused on the development of a global strategy for North Carolina’s manufacturers and highlighted many of the ways in which Corning has expanded its market presence while maintaining a focus on their core business strengths.  

McGirr discussed the long history and broad footprint of the 173-year-old American diversified glass, ceramics, and fiber manufacturer in North Carolina, including an overview of the landmark Wilmington facility, as well as manufacturing, supply-chain, and management operations statewide. Corning’s Optical Communications division is headquartered in Charlotte.  

Technology Continues to be a Focus 

Cybersecurity was a hot topic as many small to medium-sized manufacturers work toward modernization and implementation of Industry 4.0 principles into their businesses. It seems that cybersecurity is an evergreen topic for North Carolina’s advanced manufacturing sector with active discussions and questions during relevant breakouts. Beyond cybersecurity, there was a lot of interest in ways in which artificial intelligence could be relevant for manufacturers, integrate into their activities, and enable efficiencies or innovation.  

Workforce Wins the Day 

Perhaps the most prevalent topic was workforce, a shared focus of the NC Chamber Foundation as it works to secure a thriving future for our state and enhance the quality of life and creation of wealth for all North Carolinians. Many of the attendees and presenters discussed the challenges of recruiting and retaining skilled labor in manufacturing operations. There were several presentations focused on various ways to upskill and provide ongoing development for the state’s current manufacturing workforce. 

Success stories featuring the North Carolina Community College System, Apprenticeship NC, and NC State’s innovative Rural Works! placement program were a bright spot on the agenda.  

In one of the most well-attended breakout sessions, GE Aerospace’s LEAP Manufacturing Program Leader Ed Zimmerman presented a compelling overview of the Durham facility’s Teaming manufacturing practice which has been a successful factor in their talent retention efforts. Other presenters offered additional solutions through software, automation, or novel recruiting practices. Through its NC Leads strategic plan, the Foundation is scaling and aligning these and other proven employer, community, and industry-based efforts to close the job supply-and-demand gap.  

What’s Made in NC, Makes NC 

The 2024 MFGCon event was a great way to get up to speed on all things manufacturing in North Carolina and provides an optimistic and encouraging statement about the strong future of manufacturing in our state. With the right approach and continued investment in good ideas, good technology, and good people, the momentum we’re seeing in today’s manufacturing sector will continue and remain one of North Carolina’s core competitive advantages.