A Career Path Comes Full Circle
I began my career in Melbourne, Florida, at Rockwell International in the late 1970s while attending junior college. I was exposed to manufacturing while building circuit boards for Piper Aircraft. Unfortunately, this limited exposure to manufacturing was short-lived. I was laid off because of the increase of jobs being sent overseas, and my career path changed completely — or so I thought.
As I finished my degree, the travel industry became a passion of mine. My career took me to Dallas and Miami before I returned home to Orlando in 1993.
When the unimaginable happened on Sept.t 11, 2001, we all found our nation under fire, with many Americans killed. The travel industry suffered, among others. After 20-plus years in hospitality, I was without a job. Eventually, I heard about a position with a nonprofit working with local manufacturers. It piqued my interest, and in 2006 I found myself at the Manufacturers Association of Central Florida (MACF) as its executive director — a job I still enjoy today, and especially during Manufacturing Month every October.
My first plant tour in my new position with MACF was at a defense manufacturing facility. It solidified within me that we, as citizens of this great nation, need to get the community and our local educational institutions involved in manufacturing. I became passionate about showing everyone that manufacturing was “cool” and it also offered high-wage and high-tech careers for people to pursue.
By the Numbers
Florida is home to more than 20,000 manufacturing companies. Manufacturers in the state account for 5.36% of the total output in the state, employing 4.23% of the workforce. In June 2019, there were 381,800 manufacturing jobs in Florida (seasonally adjusted), an increase of 10,500 jobs over the previous year. Manufacturing provides Floridians with high-wage jobs that come with average annual wages of $61,000 as of 2018.
Eighty percent of Florida manufacturers have 20 or fewer employees, and 95% of all exporters in Florida are small businesses. Florida manufacturers produce a variety of goods including aerospace products, batteries, food and beverages, communications equipment, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, semiconductors, recreational equipment and more.
Manufacturing helps to drive Florida’s economy, with $52.69 billion in manufactured goods exported in 2018. Still, about half of the cargo containers leaving Florida aboard ships, planes and trucks are empty. This means Floridians pay more for inbound freight than they would have paid if these cargo containers left Florida filled with Florida-made goods, which makes Florida less competitive overall.
Manufacturing is made up of two segments: durable goods and non-durable goods. Durable goods include transportation equipment, computer and communications equipment, fabricated metal products and other items, and manufacturers that make them employ about two-thirds of all workers in the industry in Florida. Non-durable goods include food and beverages, paper products and chemicals, and these account for the other one-third of Florida’s manufacturing employees.
This year felt like a crossroads for me once again when COVID-19 hit our nation and our state. Central Florida is the No. 1 tourism destination in the world, and when the pandemic struck out of nowhere, like 9/11, it left many of our citizens out of work, unemployed and discouraged.
As we Americans suddenly found ourselves without personal protective equipment (PPE) because many of these products are made overseas, the men and women of Central Florida’s manufacturers sprang into action. Central Florida manufacturers, deemed essential during a pandemic, quickly changed production lines, educated employees and began making PPE. The manufacturing industry demonstrated its flexibility, not only to survive the ever-changing global business climate but also to fulfill its vital role in the health and well-being of our society.
MACF will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2021, and my vision is to celebrate “face to face” during the annual President’s Dinner. We need to recognize the men and women who work every day to make our lives better, whether it is defending our nation to preserve the freedom we enjoy, producing PPE to keep us safe, crafting the food and drinks on the table for our families or creating recreational equipment for us to enjoy. It’s time to celebrate Central Florida manufacturers.
If you’re looking to start a career in manufacturing, you will need to embrace change. The sector is constantly on the move, and it’s only a matter of time until the next industrial revolution takes place. Then who knows? You could be an integral part of it. Who would have thought that a job in junior college would have such an impact on my life 30 years later? Reach out to MACF and see how manufacturing can change the trajectory of your life.
Sherry Reeves is the executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Central Florida. She can be reached at email@example.com or 407-897-3384.
As seen in October 2020 i4 Business Magazine