Made in Nebraska
October 13, 2021 | View PDF
October is Manufacturing Month here in Nebraska. It is a great opportunity to celebrate the innovators and makers creating jobs across the Cornhusker State. Our state has a rich tradition of inventing and manufacturing premium products. Over the years, the imaginations of Nebraskans gave birth to ski lifts, center pivots, vise grip pliers, Kool-Aid, and Dorothy Lynch salad dressing. Today, companies in our state manufacture everything from subway cars, to combines, to the syringes used to deliver coronavirus vaccines.
Even in the face of significant challenges, manufacturing employment in Nebraska has bounced back since the early days of the pandemic, climbing to its highest point since August 2008. Over 100,000 Nebraskans, or about 10% of our state’s workforce, are employed in manufacturing. These are great-paying jobs, averaging above $67,000 in annual compensation.
So far in 2021, we’ve seen the growth of companies manufacturing fuel, automotive components, medical devices, ATVs, food ingredients, energy, and more. Here are just some of the examples:
• In April, Love’s and Cargill announced an innovative partnership to produce renewable diesel at a plant in Hastings. Renewable diesel represents an additional opportunity to use Nebraska corn oils, soybean oils, and animal fats to produce clean fuels for our nation’s energy supply. The joint venture, called Heartwell Renewables, is bringing 50 jobs to Hastings.
• In May, our nation’s largest steel manufacturer, Nucor, announced a $58 million investment to upgrade its capabilities at its location in Norfolk. The mill in Norfolk makes top-end engineered bars and rods for use in the automotive industry. Nucor Steel Nebraska has been in Norfolk since 1973 and has grown its workforce to around 500 teammates.
This summer, Becton Dickinson completed a $70 million project to ramp up production capacity at facilities in Broken Bow, Columbus, and Holdrege to meet demand for needles and syringes used to administer the coronavirus vaccine. The company has now received orders of more than 2 billion injection devices. Hundreds of millions of them are being made here in Nebraska to support the ongoing vaccination effort.
• In July, Kawasaki delivered the first of 535 next-generation subway cars to the New York City Transit Authority. The railcars feature wider doors, LED lighting, and digital displays. They’re being manufactured at Kawasaki’s plant in Lincoln as part of a $1.4 billion contract. The railcars are being tested over the next year and are scheduled to enter service in September 2022. Also in July, Kawasaki announced a $200 million expansion to bring 550 more jobs to Lincoln to increase capacity to make ATVs, Jet Skis, and other vehicles.
• Nebraska also continues to see manufacturing growth in the biosciences. In January Corbion, a Dutch producer of lactic acid food ingredients, announced plans to boost production by 40% at its plant in Blair. This August, Danish firm Novozymes announced a $300 million project to expand production in Nebraska.
• On September 1st, Monolith Materials announced it is adding 200 jobs over the next 18 months as it scales up production at its existing facility in Hallam and constructs another plant to manufacture carbon-free ammonia. Monolith’s innovative production of clean energy has attracted major international investments from Mitsubishi in Japan and SK in South Korea.
And we aren’t taking future growth for granted. As we grow Nebraska manufacturing, we’re developing a talent pipeline to connect youth in our state with rewarding careers right here in the Good Life. In 2015, I worked with the Legislature to launch the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) to familiarize 7th and 8th grade students with high-demand careers in manufacturing. Middle school is the time when students begin to gravitate toward a course of study based on their experiences and relationships. Gaining exposure to careers in manufacturing at an early age greatly increases the likelihood that students will pursue them.
To date, DYTI has reached over 22,600 students across 59 school districts. In July, Behlen Manufacturing in Columbus received one of the State’s 2021 DYTI awards. Behlen is partnering with Columbus Middle School, Dream It Do It, and the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition to develop a manufacturing-based after-school program. Their DYTI grant will help to train educators as well as to fund the equipment students will use to gain first-hand experience in manufacturing. For a manufacturer like Behlen, which has added over 100 jobs in the past year, DYTI is an integral part of building the local workforce to meet the company’s future needs.
After middle school, students can take part in a high school career academy to continue gaining the real-world knowledge needed to excel in the workplace. For example, Case New Holland (CNH) partners with Grand Island High School on a Youth Registered Apprenticeship program for welders and industrial manufacturing technicians. In August 2021 CNH entered into a partnership with Central Community College (CCC) to offer registered apprenticeships for CCC students in welding technology and advanced manufacturing design technology. These apprenticeships give students the opportunity to gain course credits and earn income—all while building professional skillsets.
In 2020, I worked with the Unicameral to create Nebraska Career Scholarships for students working toward degrees in fields with a big need for more talent, such as manufacturing. Scholarships are available for incoming students at community colleges, state colleges, the University system, and—as of 2021—private colleges and universities. For example, students attending Northeast Community College can apply for Career Scholarships to study drafting, machining, manufacturing automation, or welding.
Starting with DYTI in middle school, continuing in a high school career academy, and culminating in a college Career Scholarship—with apprenticeships along the way—we’re paving the way for Nebraska’s students to take advantage of these great opportunities. If you have any questions about the State’s work to grow manufacturing, please email [email protected] or call my office at 402-471-2244. In Nebraska, we’re doing our part so that “Made in America” becomes the norm once again.