An Aspiring Manufacturer Finds FAME

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Aidan Bleser took to manufacturing early on.

“The concepts of manufacturing were part of my childhood,” says Bleser. “There was a lot of Lego-building, and stuff like that.”

Still, Bleser didn’t get a chance to hone his skills until high school, when he was accepted into a program that offered courses on manufacturing at a local college, St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas. Near the end of his program, his professors at St. Philip’s encouraged him to take the next step by signing up for the FAME program’s local chapter in Alamo.

The program: The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), which was created by Toyota and is now overseen by The Manufacturing Institute, is a career pathway program for current and aspiring manufacturing workers. It provides them with on-the-job training and classroom education, leading to an associate degree and the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) certificate.

The experience: Through the program, Bleser was offered a role at Toyota, where he spent two years doing hands-on work while also accruing college credit.

  • “FAME was great,” said Bleser. “The two years went by fast, and I enjoyed getting the college credit while still working part time. It helped the learning experience, being able to work while going to school.”

The people: Bleser also enjoyed working with other program participants as part of a group, getting to know individuals who were interested in manufacturing and even advising and mentoring younger students after his time in the program was up.

  • “I’ve stayed in touch with people in my cohort, and I have mentored people in the younger cohort,” said Bleser. “That group dynamic is a great opportunity, because you can learn skills yourself and then teach them to other people.”

The job: Bleser graduated in May and was offered a full-time position at Toyota in August. He is now employed as a maintenance officer at Adient, one of Toyota’s on-site suppliers—and credits the FAME program with giving him the tools he needed to be successful.

  • “I would recommend FAME to anyone,” said Bleser. “It prepares you really well. By the time you’re hired, you’re not a new face, and you’re used to the culture.”

The road ahead: Bleser’s experiences in the FAME program and at Toyota have shown him that there are opportunities available in manufacturing for people with all sorts of different talents and interests. He has big plans for the future:

  • “I’d like to look into system integration, maybe opening some sort of company myself one day,” said Bleser. “I’ve also gotten more into application development on the software side, so I’d like to continue doing that, and hopefully develop some software that can be used throughout manufacturing.”

The last word: “There are so many ways to work in manufacturing,” said Bleser. “From maintenance, to quality, to logistics, to management, there are a lot of different places you could find yourself. Anybody with any skill set could be valued.”


GE Appliances Sees Success in Hiring Afghan Refugees

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It’s been almost a year, but the sights and sounds are never far from his thoughts: crowds of people surging toward departing planes, trampling those who stumble; gunshots ringing out; the explosion of a nearby bomb.

For Edris Akseer, now a bilingual recruiting coordinator at GE Appliances’ (GEA) Louisville headquarters, these memories are daily reminders of the horrors that he, his wife and his brothers endured in Afghanistan to get to the United States—and how different his situation is today.

  • “That day [I left] was the worst day of my life,” recalled Akseer, a former translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan who was able to secure passage out through his U.S. military connections. “[But] I’m happy here. I really enjoy helping others and I find my job really interesting. … I saved enough to buy a car and I’m working on getting my driver’s license.”

Helping refugees: Akseer is one of more than 100 non-U.S.-born employees brought on in recent months by GEA in Louisville. About 50 are refugees from Afghanistan who came here last fall when the U.S. military exited the country. The other half are Spanish-speaking and hail from multiple nations.

  • “In early 2022, we had a new production line–and we needed to hire over 1,300 people,” recalls GE Appliances Senior Manager Beth Mickle, who runs the production recruitment group at the company’s large campus in Kentucky.
  • “Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries said they [were helping] a group of people from Afghanistan and said, ‘We think you would be a great employer for them. Would you be interested in taking a shot at this?’”
  • GEA was interested—and opening the hiring process to refugees and other immigrants has been one of the best workforce decisions the company has made in recent memory, Mickle said.

Location, location: As a longtime U.S.-immigration entry point, Louisville has large populations of non-native-born people, said GE Appliances Workforce Development Recruiter Gabriela Salazar.

  • These include people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Peru, Honduras, Venezuela and Mexico, said Salazar, who recently conducted a survey of languages spoken among GE Appliances employees. The findings: production staff at three factories communicate in a total of more than 40 languages.
  • In a sense, working with charities to hire refugees is the next step in the company’s hiring practices. It “has helped us to tap into populations we might not have known how to tap into before,” Mickle said.

Learning as they go: GE Appliances now offers new-hire orientations in many languages, including Afghanistan’s official languages of Pashto and Dari, as well as Spanish and Swahili.

  • The company also has a buddy system which pairs new employees with workers who have been at the facility for a while.
  • “These are employees who volunteer to be points of contact, to help show people around,” Mickle said. “You know, ‘Where is the bathroom? ‘Where do I get my protective gear?’ We also translate all the new-hire documents [into native languages] because they won’t remember everything from their first day.”
  • Recently GE Appliances hired an American Sign Language translator to help its deaf employees. “Where it started was different languages—and now we’re seeing a lot of new horizons,” Salazar said.

Onward and upward: Akseer has seen a lot of new horizons himself in the past few months.

  • He was originally hired at GE Appliances as one of its much-needed production-line team members, but owing to his fluent English, compassion and constant willingness to help, Akseer was “always being pulled of the line to help translate” something for another new employee, according to Mickle.
  • So when a translator role opened up on Mickle’s team mere months after his hiring, Akseer was in. “He was already doing the role of what we needed him to do. He’s just a natural teacher,” Mickle said.
  • On top of the new country, the new company and the two new jobs in quick succession, Akseer underwent another major change: becoming a new father. His son was born shortly after the family came to the U.S.

Advice for other manufacturers: Hiring refugees and other immigrant workers has been a boon for GE Appliances, Mickle said, and other manufacturers should consider following suit if they can.

  • “They are the first to raise their hands for overtime,” she said. “They work very, very hard. In [manufacturing], our jobs are not always the easiest. But they do it and they love it.”

The last word: “Manufacturers that bring on refugees see fewer turnovers and increased efficiency,” MI Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Inclusion AJ Jorgenson said. “They’re also helping to improve lives and communities. More inclusive workplaces strengthen manufacturing.”


From the Air Force to the Railroad: Tara Hogan’s Success Story

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When Tara Hogan was growing up in Texas, she wanted to be a basketball coach—a career in freight rail wasn’t on her radar. But after high school and six years of service in the U.S. Air Force, she finished her college degree, took on a few different jobs and went looking for her next gig. She found Union Pacific Railroad on a list of companies looking to employ military veterans and landed a job as an operations management trainee in 2006.

More than 15 years later, after stints in Nebraska, Louisiana and Kansas, Hogan serves as a general manager at Union Pacific in Fort Worth, Texas, leading a team of 1,700 people as she runs the freight rail service in an active—and essential—area of the country.

Starting out: In many ways, Hogan found that her experience in the military gave her the tools to succeed at Union Pacific.

  • “Union Pacific is a 24/7 operation that runs 365 days a year, as the military does,” said Hogan. “In the military, there’s a structure and a sense of certainty, and there’s comfort to that; at Union Pacific, there’s the same kind of certainty and structure. There’s a language in the military, and a language at Union Pacific.”
  • “For me, it was the place I could go that felt the most familiar…. It’s got the structure of the military but the flexibility of the civilian environment.”

Paying it forward: Today, Hogan isn’t only an outstanding representative of the railroad industry in her own right; she’s also a role model for others who might be interested in a career in the sector—including individuals from communities that are currently underrepresented.

  • Through Union Pacific’s UPLift program, which pairs underrepresented employees with executive sponsors, Hogan is sponsoring a woman in Fort Worth, offering career advice and networking support.
  • “It’s not a one-and-done mentor situation,” said Hogan. “I’ll be with her throughout her career, and I’ll watch her grow. Hopefully, she’ll be my boss someday.”

A supportive environment: As a woman in freight rail, Hogan is generally in the minority, even as Union Pacific works to double the number of women employed at the railroad. Still, Hogan’s experience has been positive, and she has always felt encouraged to gain skills and rise in the company.

  • “Everybody I have come across has wanted to see me succeed,” said Hogan. “If somebody is willing and wanting to learn, there are a ton of people here who want to teach you and see you be successful.”
  • “I never thought I’d be in this position. I didn’t aspire to it. But the company saw something and kept challenging me to see what I can do. It’s been a great experience for me.”

The bigger picture: Hogan’s success at Union Pacific is part of the company’s ambitious efforts to advance women throughout its operations.

  • Its Careers on Track program—in partnership with The Manufacturing Institute—aims to increase the number of women in the manufacturing and transportation, distribution and logistics industries.
  • The program is designed to inspire women and youth to pursue modern industry careers through workforce development and career solutions.

The last word: “You can learn anything you want to learn here, depending on what your job is,” said Hogan. “Manufacturing has changed with the times and become better. All the opportunities to learn and grow have become better. If you’re a hard worker and willing to learn, there’s no glass ceiling anymore.”

Business Operations

How to Get the Most Out of R&D

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How should companies design R&D teams and processes to create the best possible results? That’s the challenge that Babson College Professor of Innovation Management Gina O’Connor addressed in her talk at the Innovation Research Interchange’s annual conference back in June. The IRI is a division of the NAM that advances the field of innovation management by creating contemporary practices—in R&D and many other areas.

A common problem: In an extensive research project at Babson College, O’Connor worked with experts from Goodyear, Synthomer and Diageo to study companies and decipher best R&D practices. She noticed a recurring theme: R&D professionals were being used by companies to solve urgent technical issues rather than to discover and invent.

  • “In many organizations R&D has this feeling of being an order taker and of having to solve problems that are finely tuned and narrowly scoped,” said O’Connor. “That erodes confidence—and eroded confidence reduces empowerment.”

Empowerment and autonomy: O’Connor described empowerment as the authority to determine which projects and initiatives to take on and what problems to tackle. Meanwhile, autonomy refers to the authority to make final decisions.

  • So, what do R&D professionals need? According to O’Connor, most want a moderate amount of empowerment, but not complete control over what to do.
  • “We want to make sure that there’s organizational commitment somewhere associated with what we are doing, but we don’t just want to be told what to do,” as she put it.

So, what works? O’Connor explained that organizations with structureless R&D systems often had erratic decision making, sudden disruptions and unexpected changes in direction that left employees feeling powerless.

  • Similarly, organizations with R&D processes that were too formal were also alienating to employees, who felt there wasn’t any room for flexibility or discussion.
  • In contrast, the best systems included strong project leaders, consistent back and forth between the R&D group and organizational leadership, constructive communication, clearly outlined goals and trust in employees.

A last piece of advice: Training and developing project leaders is among the most essential steps in achieving successful R&D, said O’Connor.

  • “What you need to be doing as a team leader every day is checking in with every member of your team, seeing what they need, where they are, what has happened,” said O’Connor. “It has to be an interactive, interpersonal kind of a thing.”

Learn more: Head on over to the IRI website to check out more of its programs and events.

Business Operations

Manufacturers Are Getting Tough on Cybersecurity

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More companies are taking a disciplined approach to the growing threat of cyber attacks, according to a new cybersecurity survey from the Manufacturing Leadership Council. The MLC is the digital transformation arm of the NAM.

  • The survey, which included input from 160 companies, indicates a dramatic change in how seriously manufacturers consider cyber threats compared to 2018, when the MLC last conducted the same survey.

Who’s prepared: Nearly 62% of manufacturing companies say they have a formal cybersecurity plan in place, according to the survey.

  • That’s up from 2018, when barely 33% of manufacturers indicated they had devised and adopted formal cybersecurity plans that encompassed their plant floors.
  • Nearly 40% of respondents said they had a high level of confidence in their internal cyber expertise, compared with just 25% who expressed such certainty in 2018.

More attacks expected: Yet even as better cybersecurity strategies are put in place, nearly 79% of survey respondents said they expect more attacks in the next year.

  • That figure is up from 64% in 2018.
  • The most frequently cited reasons for this prediction are increased levels of cyber crime and cyber terrorism and greater connectivity in manufacturers’ operations.

The effects on digital transformation: More than half the survey respondents expressed concern that cybersecurity issues could affect the speed and scope of digital transformation.

  • 14% said cybersecurity could be a major obstacle in the next five years, with another 40% describing it as “an issue of concern.”
  • Close to half—43%—said they consider cyber a part of doing business in a digitally transformed world.

Proactive measures: More manufacturers are taking advantage of publicly available safeguards, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, to underpin their strategies.

  • Nearly 58% of respondents said they have adopted the NIST framework, up from 48% in 2018.
  • 45% said they have cyber insurance, compared to the 18% that said they had it in 2018.

The coming challenge: In the past four years, manufacturers have made significant strides to combat the growing problem of cyber attacks against the industry.

  • However, manufacturers will need to stay a step ahead of cyber criminals as the number and sophistication of attacks increases.

See the survey: Review the survey findings for an in-depth look at how manufacturing leaders are thinking about cybersecurity in manufacturing’s digital era.

Get help: NAM Cyber Cover was designed specifically to provide enhanced risk mitigation and protection for manufacturers and their supply chains. Find out more at

Business Operations

How to Protect Your Company’s IP

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Safeguarding intellectual property is possible even when patents are not stringently enforced, according to James Nebus, associate professor and chair of the business department at Suffolk University’s Sawyer School of Business. He discussed the topic at this year’s annual Innovation Research Interchange conference back in June. The IRI is a division of the NAM dedicated to advancing innovation management and creating best practices in the industry.

Protecting IP: In his keynote speech, Nebus outlined several actions taken by well-known companies to defend against patent infringement in “weak-enforcement countries.”

Raise barriers: One of the most successful strategies was raising the barrier to imitation, Nebus said. Companies that have used this method to guard against what Nebus called “product knowledge leakage” include DuPont and Dow. They have taken the following steps:

  • Installed information technology defensive shields.
  • Appointed trade secret managers.
  • Conducted employee IP training.

Try a different barrier: Another way that companies have kept imitators at bay is to “bundle imitable products with complementary inimitable products,” according to Nebus.

  • This is a strategy IBM began to employ many years ago. “When computer hardware first became a commodity, IBM … transformed themselves from a computer hardware company to a solutions and services company,” Nebus said.
  • “And by doing that, they changed the parameters of the customer ‘buy decision’ from the price of the hardware to the value of the solution to their business.”

Advanced manufacturing: Another way to raise the “barrier to commercialization,” as Nebus calls it, is to use advanced manufacturing techniques that are not easily copied.

  • Apple Inc. did this well in 2008, when it came out with its ultra-light, ultra-thin MacBook Air to compete with lower-cost Asian PC vendors, Nebus said.
  • “The packaging technology that enabled that design … started with CNC, computer numerically controlled milling process, which at that time was really used for low-volume prototypes. They invested in manufacturing R&D to transform that process … to high-volume production,” he explained.
  • “The imitators really couldn’t make that big investment, so Apple separated themselves.”

Parting thoughts: Nebus ended his talk with three takeaways for the audience.

  • First, “an effective strategy consists of implementing the protection mechanisms necessary to raise one of the barriers above the abilities of the imitator.”
  • Second, companies may require different strategies for different countries, especially if some are developed and others are developing.
  • Finally, companies should decide where to locate headquarters not just “on economic factors. [Remember] to take IP risks into consideration.”

Learn more: Head on over to the IRI website to check out more of its programs and events.

Policy and Legal

Manufacturing Voters Oppose Corporate Minimum Tax

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The vast majority of manufacturing voters in Arizona disapprove of the U.S. Senate’s proposal to impose a “corporate minimum tax,” according to the results of a joint NAM–Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry snap poll yesterday.

The results: More than 90% of the manufacturing voters polled are against the tax, while 91% said it would harm manufacturers’ ability to invest in their businesses, upgrade facilities and buy new machinery.

  • Respondents also said the measure would put both manufacturing jobs and the U.S. economy in jeopardy.

The NAM’s view: “With the U.S. and Arizona economies already showing signs of weakening, this is the wrong time to further undermine growth and the manufacturing sector’s overall competitiveness,” NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray said.

  • Moutray cited analyses by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the NAM that found the tax would disproportionately harm manufacturers.
  • This tax “will make it harder to hire more workers, raise wages and invest in our communities,” Moutray continued. “Arizona’s manufacturing voters are clearly saying that this tax will hurt our economy.”

The Arizona Chamber says: “In the face of record-high inflation, supply chain backlogs and a major labor crunch, now is not the time to hammer manufacturers with new taxes,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Danny Seiden said.

  • “Arizona job creators will continue to urge lawmakers to reject this manufacturers tax and instead focus on policies that encourage job growth and strengthen our state and national economic competitiveness.”
Policy and Legal

Tax Reform Bought a Manufacturer New Equipment and a Brighter Future

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The oldest forging machine at Phoenix manufacturer Valley Forge & Bolt dates all the way back to 1930. Plenty of other forging equipment was bought used and then refurbished to help the business keep down costs and maintain its generous benefits for employees. In fact, this type of equipment is the most expensive outlay of capital for the company, according to CEO Michele Clarke.

Thanks to the 2017 tax reform law, however, Valley Forge was able to buy new forging equipment for the very first time. It is “a huge game changer,” said Clarke, “when you can buy state of the art equipment.”

She said as much to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, during the senator’s visit earlier this month to Valley Forge’s facility. Along with CFO Byron Harrod, Clarke spoke to us recently about tax reform’s full range of benefits for their company—and why policymakers should not threaten the gains they and other Arizona manufacturers have made.

A small manufacturer on the rise: Valley Forge is poised to have its best sales year in its almost 50-year history, thanks in large part to the new equipment. Though the pandemic put a temporary dent in its progress, it has seen a marked jump in sales since 2017.

  • The company also boosted its employment by 15 to 20% in 2018, rising to 100 workers for the first time, according to Harrod.

Benefits secured: The company makes a point of providing expansive health care coverage, with only a nominal fee for employees. The savings from tax reform has helped it maintain this commitment to employee health, as well as its 401(k) match program.

  • Meanwhile, workers benefit directly from the increase in sales as well. The company has a longstanding incentives program, handing out quarterly bonuses once key goals are met.
  • “Every employee gets money back if we do well,” as Clarke put it.

A better place to work: The new equipment has made Valley Forge not only more productive and profitable, but also a more comfortable working environment.

  • One of the machines it purchased was robotic equipment to grind bolts. “Worst job in the company,” said Clarke. The grinding process removes forging flash so the bolts don’t cut people when handled, and it involves a lot of flying metal chips.
  • “The robot probably costs close to $300,000, and we had to build a special room,” she added. It’s taken a whole year for engineers to program and set up the machine, but the benefits are worth it—“it replaces jobs that nobody wants to do.”

How tax reform helped: In addition to the lower corporate tax rate, certain other provisions in the law were crucial to the company’s equipment purchases.

  • Take full expensing, which allows companies to deduct the full cost of equipment in the year it is bought. “We went each year [since tax reform] to the maximum for full expensing, sometimes more,” said Harrod.

What’s next? The company must keep adding new capacity, said Clarke, so that it doesn’t join the four or five bolting companies that go out of business around the U.S. each year. “We stay alive because of the technology we’ve developed, and we keep making it more advanced.”

  • The company is beginning to produce fasteners with Bluetooth or radio frequency wireless, which can transmit information about their load and whether they have come loose right to your phone.
  • It’s hoping to market these fasteners to the wind industry: “They have men who climb up the towers to tighten the bolts,” Clarke explained. “But the work life in that job is a year and a half.”
  • Thanks to the new bolts, these workers would only have to make that daunting climb when they know the bolts are loosening.

This is why even the threat of a tax increase is so damaging to manufacturers, according to Clarke and Harrod. They need to be certain that their tax burden will not go up in order to plan confidently for the future.

  • “Planning is paramount,” Clarke reinforced. “It takes maybe two years from when a customer first sees [a new product]” until they put in an order.

The NAM says: “Valley Forge is yet one more example of how the 2017 tax reform law helped to power growth for manufacturers,” said NAM Senior Director of Tax Policy David Eiselsberg. “Unfortunately, Congress is considering a major tax on the manufacturing sector that if implemented would reverse the gains from tax reform and hurt the sector’s future competitiveness. As it has done for the better part of year, the NAM will continue to fight against tax increases targeting manufacturers.”

The bottom line: When policymakers start talking about tax increases, “You start to cut back, you think about not replacing engineers who leave,” said Clarke. “You think the government is not on our side; let’s just cut back and make do.”

Policy and Legal

Book Tax Would Disproportionately Burden Manufacturers

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The proposed “book tax” in the Senate’s reconciliation bill “would overwhelmingly hit U.S. manufacturers,” according to a new analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s non-partisan tax scorekeeper.

What’s going on: The reconciliation bill, the outline of which was released Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), proposes a 15% minimum corporate levy, or “book tax,” on certain companies.

  • The provision is estimated to raise $313 billion, and JCT finds that manufacturers would be responsible for paying nearly half of it.

What it means: The impact would be swift and devastating to manufacturers and the economy as a whole, said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray, who conducted his own analysis of the bill’s effects on the manufacturing sector.

Including direct, indirect and induced effects, in 2023 alone the impact would include:

  • A real GDP reduction of $68.45 billion
  • 218,108 fewer workers in the overall economy
  • A labor-income decrease of $17.11 billion

Targeting manufacturers: “‘This is a domestic manufacturing tax, plain and simple,’” said Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID), who asked for the JCT analysis.

  • “Despite Democrats’ claims, the book minimum tax does not close tax loopholes. Treatment of capital investments, like those made by American manufacturers, differ for book and tax purposes—for good reason,” according to a press release from Senate Finance Republicans.
  • “Congress intentionally designed tax depreciation rules to support domestic investment. Democrats’ tax on U.S. manufacturing would eliminate that benefit.”
Policy and Legal

Exclusive: Sinema Meets with Manufacturers in Arizona, Talks Policy with the NAM

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U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) recently got an in-person look at manufacturing’s success in Arizona on a NAM-arranged tour of Phoenix manufacturer Valley Forge & Bolt. During her visit, which also featured a roundtable with manufacturers from across Arizona, she spoke with the NAM about the successful passage of historic infrastructure legislation without tax increases, the necessity of boosting semiconductor production and more.

  • During the roundtable, Valley Forge & Bolt President and CEO Michele Clarke highlighted the direct impact of the 2017 tax reforms on her ability to invest in her facility and workforce. She thanked the senator for standing against future tax increases on manufacturers and for her leadership on infrastructure investment.

The NAM caught up with the senator after the roundtable for an exclusive interview. Here is some of what she said.

Infrastructure in Arizona: “We’ve got over $5.3 billion coming just to improve our roads and bridges in Arizona,” said Sinema. “That’s critical for the work we’re doing to shorten the supply chain. The benefits of this law will be seen for years to come.”

  • “It provides a real opportunity for manufacturing businesses in Arizona to be able to utilize this energy and these dollars we’ve created to move forward, attract more companies to Arizona, and become a world leader in manufacturing.”

What’s next? “My number one goal now that this [infrastructure] bill has become law is to make sure that it’s implemented quickly, swiftly, and without bureaucracy,” said Sinema.

  • “I want to make sure Arizona is getting its fair share of dollars so that the men and women who are running and working for our manufacturing companies can put these dollars to good use and make sure Arizona retains and grows its status as a domestic manufacturer.”

Creators Wanted: “There’s a need for us to really focus on investment in our education system so that we’re training the highly qualified tradesmen and tradeswomen who can do the work of this domestic manufacturing,” said Sinema. “That’s an area where we have an opportunity to grow, not just here in Arizona but across our nation. To meet this need so we can retain our global independence and competitiveness.”

Chips: “Arizona is already a hub for the microchip and the semiconductor industry; but passing the CHIPS Plus legislation will allow us to triple or even quadruple that investment,” said Sinema. “It’s incredibly important for us—not just for the tax credit and the investment in R&D—but for the tech hubs, for the investment in science, and to help attract more companies to build semiconductors right here in Arizona.”

The last word: “Manufacturing is the bread and butter of our state,” said Sinema. “It ensures that Arizona is a hub to the nation and the entire world in making products that will power our economy for the future.”

Read more: Check out the local coverage of the senator’s visit from the Daily Independent and the Phoenix Business Journal (subscription).

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