Senator Vin Gopal hosted a hearing of the Bipartisan Legislative Manufacturing Caucus to gauge the needs of the manufacturing industry.
The hearing, hosted at SPEX Certiprep in Metuchen on Tuesday, August 14, gave leaders within the manufacturing industry a platform to discuss the issues impacting their businesses, including tariffs, apprenticeships and minimum wage.
“As the Chair of the Bipartisan Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, I understand how vitally important it is that we foster the growth of this industry,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “New Jersey cannot afford for our manufacturers to leave the state or the country due to tariffs, abrupt changes to the minimum wage or a lack of skilled workers. I was grateful to speak with leaders in the manufacturing industry today to gain insight into the challenges these businesses face on a day-to-day basis. As a small business owner myself, I understand the responsibilities and challenges of running a business. I can appreciate what these business owners are going through. I look forward to working with these industry leaders moving forward to support New Jersey’s manufacturers.”
Senator Gopal was joined at the hearing by his District 11 colleague Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, Senator Anthony R. Bucco, Senator Joseph Cryan, Senator Linda Greenstein, Senator Samuel Thompson, Senator Ronald Rice, Assemblyman Roy Freiman, Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin and Assemblyman Clinton Calabrese.
“Manufacturing is a key industry here in New Jersey,” Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling. “This was an incredibly illuminating hearing which has given us a strong foundation upon which to move forward in supporting our manufacturing industry. I look forward to working with my Legislative colleagues to ensure New Jersey’s manufacturers are well supported and capable of remaining in New Jersey.”
“New Jersey’s manufacturers are up against a myriad of challenges that may ultimately drive them out of the U.S.,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin. “I am grateful to the industry leaders who joined us at the caucus hearing to educate myself and my fellow Legislators about how we can better support this industry, which is so vital to our economy.”
The hearing was also attended by members of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) and representatives from several U.S.-based manufacturers.
Four New Jersey-based manufacturers, including Gary DuBoss, CEO of Arrow Fasteners; Marcia Frieze, CEO of Case Medical; Gail Friedberg, SVP of Zago Mfg; and Jim Minedeo, President of Zero Surge, testified that the tariffs imposed on March 23 have had devastating impacts on their business and have forced them to consider layoffs and relocation.
“The unintended consequences of the tariffs that have been imposed on foreign imports of steel and aluminum have had devastating unintended consequences on our domestic manufacturing industry,” said Senator Vin Gopal.
“Several of our panelists testified that the March 23 tariffs have forced them to consider relocating their businesses and laying off their hard working staff due to drastic increases in the price of steel and aluminum materials. They are absorbing the cost increases with no ability to pass those costs onto the consumer if they hope to remain competitive. We have to ensure our manufacturers do not fall victim to these imprudent and dangerous tariffs. We cannot afford to lose these businesses.”
“We can’t pass along [a price increase], because our competition isn’t subject to the tariffs. We’re stuck,” said Gary DuBoss of Arrow Fasteners, which utilizes steel in its products. According to Mr. DuBoss, tariffs are currently the biggest issue facing his company, followed by the proposed $15 minimum wage.
“The tariffs for us is a major concern,” said Marcia Frieze of Case Medical. “I care more about my customers who are patients than I care about the profit so I was willing to swallow some of the increased charges. But my concern now is simply supply. I cannot get the material we need manufactured here in the U.S.A. we are a committed U.S. manufacturer … We are going to have to go overseas somewhere to get our basic materials.”
Steve Holand, President of Carry Cases Plus, and Scott Mele, President of Tek-Tite, were among the professionals to testify on minimum wage. According to the panelists, an increase to a $15 minimum wage would likely have a negative impact on their business and force them to consider automation. While the speakers were generally supportive of the concept of increasing the minimum wage, they were concerned with how these increases will be implemented and how the local industry will be impacted by neighboring states with lower minimum wages.
“An increased minimum wage could have devastating impacts to the manufacturing industry if it is not implemented correctly,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “We need to understand the intricacies of payroll and the impact that benefits, paid vacation, and other factors have on the total wage. We need to look at all of the companies that would be impacted by an increased minimum wage — the mom and pop shops found in my own district, the large corporations that call New Jersey home — and consider whether this is a feasible option and what exemptions can be made to ensure we are not putting anyone out of business.”
“I am for a federal minimum wage increase. Every recent increase of federal minimum wage I agree with but we cannot have a $15 New Jersey wage when Arkansas and Alabama and Pennsylvania are paying their people $7.25 an hour,” said Steve Holand.
“I have been working on growing my business rather than looking at automation … I’ve always shied away from it because the economics worked at $8, $10 or $12 an hour for my employees. But increasing minimum wage $1 an hour for the next 4 years, the economics won’t work at that point. I’ll probably have to go to automation which will kill the entry level jobs that I have.”
Four representatives from the manufacturing industry, including Gary Slawik of Bihler of America; Amy Eskilson, CEO of Inrad Optics; and Elissa Santo, VP of Atlantic Precision Technology, testified that there is a massive skill gap in the limited available workforce.
“We still face a huge hurdle in finding the talent, said Elissa Santo of Atlantic Precision. “There is such a negative perception of the industry … and we are constantly struggling with that.”
“We have an extreme shortage of qualified and skilled workers within the manufacturing industry,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “If we hope to grow our domestic manufacturing industry, we have to ensure our workforce is aware of the job availability within this industry and capable of filling these roles.”
“We have to ensure our schools are making these opportunities available to their students and offering the training necessary to prepare them for entry into the manufacturing industry.”