Manufacturing jobs have changed

Our View

August 19, 2014

After months of hushed planning and work behind closed doors, Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday announced the arrival of a Quebec company to Scotland County, along with a $62 million investment and nearly 200 jobs that will bring a collective payroll of $3.2 million.

It’s news that we like to report. But McCrory and state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker’s assessment that rural North Carolina’s financial future lies in manufacturing still remains to be proven.

Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of the newly built expansion of FCC North America — a new plant on the outskirts of Laurinburg that should be in full production by November.

It’s a shot in the arm to an economy still reeling from the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the early 2000s — but the estimated 68 jobs to be created at the former WestPoint Home plant are just a fraction of the 800 lost when that operation closed in 2007; and just last year, a business occupying a building on that same campus severed 150 careers in the wake of its closing.

In this economy, every single job counts. And before we can stop lamenting the loss of a few dozen, like those lost in a recent 411 call center’s consolidation, we’ll need many more announcements like Monday’s to come our way.

Scotland County, with acres of flat land available at low cost, major highways within a stone’s throw and millions of gallons of water beneath its soil, fits the needs of many manufacturers. But new technologies that allow companies to produce more with less require fewer employees than ever before. Workers spend less time touching the actual product than they do overseeing the arm of a computer-guided machine or tracing the automated source of a misplaced part.

These are not the sweaty, greasy manufacturing jobs of decades past, the kind many of those now in their retirement age successfully pursued before leaving high school. They are high-tech, high-skilled positions that often require certification from a post-secondary education program — jobs that may attract new commuters or residents to Scotland County but that likely hold little promise for the county’s most impoverished.

North Carolina keeps growing, and with it the demand for products like those Cascades produces. As plant manager Eric Taylor said on Monday, the company will grow along with the state’s population.

We hope that growth can continue to bring good news to Scotland County.