Richard Kopelman, Chairman of the Next Generation Manufacturing Conference, believes there are two main challenges for Georgia’s manufacturing companies: finding qualified workers and using government incentives effectively.
“Eight-two percent of manufacturers aren’t taking advantage of the tax credits and incentives available to them,” explained Kopelman, who is also a CPA and managing partner at accounting firm Habif, Arogti and Wynne.
That figure was based on the 2012 Georgia Manufacturing Survey conducted by Kopelman’s firm, Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State.
“Even here in Georgia with great tax incentives and people out there touting it, companies either have their head in the sand or just don’t think or are being told that they’re not able to take advantage of these things,” said Kopelman. “They’re passing on them.”
Kopelman said the conference, which was held Tuesday at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, is designed to help manufacturers share knowledge about industry innovations, opportunities and best practices.
“I think everybody probably walks away with something different,” Kopelman added. “They’re meeting other manufacturers outside of their own vertical space they usually spend their time in.”
The other major challenge Kopelman highlighted is the disconnect between those who need jobs in Georgia and the skills needed to do those jobs.
“There [are] four million unfilled technical jobs in America today because there’s a mismatch of skill sets,” said Kopelman.
One way the state has been working to alleviate that problem is through the Georgia Quick Start program. The resource is free for companies and helps create training programs to get Georgia workers up to speed.
“They’ve been fantastic to work with,” said Todd Henry, Operations Manager for Caterpillar’s new plant in Athens. “Working in conjunction with Athens Technical College, they’ve been able to build a custom training facility for us, which really is world class and they’ve been able to develop the curriculum we need to train the employees to really come into Caterpillar, go through the training and then from day one when they enter the plant, they’re ready to go.”
Caterpillar is set to begin production at its new plant in October. The company currently employs 275 people at the Athens facility, but plans to increase that to 325 workers by the end of the year.
“Right now we’re hiring for really all positions. We’re looking for shop floor leadership positions. We’re looking for assemblers and we’re looking for welders,” Henry said.
The company has said in the past it plans to hire a total of 1400 employees once it is fully operational. Henry said Caterpillar will expand to 900 workers by the end of 2015. The next 500 positions will depend on industry performance, Henry added.
Kopelman emphasized that tax breaks can help manufacturing companies expand. The passage of Georgia’s manufacturing energy tax credit has helped the industry, but Kopelman said some localities have added taxes which counteract that.