Made in Sarasota-Manatee
Jennifer Behrens Schmidt is the president and co-owner of Atlantic Mold & Machining Corp. in Nokomis. She is also the president of the Sarasota and Manatee Manufacturers Association, which supports the local manufacturing industry by addressing educational, civic and legislative issues.
How would you describe the manufacturing industry locally?
Very diverse. In Detroit you have an auto-specific manufacturing group, and in other areas you might have all medical device-related manufacturing, but in our region we have everything from musical instrument components to drinkware to very high-tech medical component manufacturers. Where we came from in the Milwaukee metro, manufacturing is the pillar industry. Yet the general feel here is that manufacturing is not one of the backbone industries like tourism or construction.
How can you convince people that a career in manufacturing is worthwhile?
SAMA sponsors “Made in Florida” tours, bringing high school kids into local facilities to give them a hands-on view of what types of jobs there are in manufacturing.
When kids think of manufacturing, they think of smokestacks, boring jobs and dirty, dark facilities. When they actually get into a modern manufacturing environment, they are shocked to find how high-tech, clean and interesting it actually is.
Manufacturing careers pay above the average wage scale compared to hospitality, tourism, retail and even construction-related jobs. Also, entry-level manufacturing jobs are not dead ends. There is unlimited potential in terms of where you can grow and move to, within one company or within the industry.
What are the most pressing issues for local manufacturers?
The No. 1 issue is the limited supply of a skilled workforce. When you put an ad in the paper and try to hire, say, a precision machinist, the majority of applicants are either very close to aging out, or they have absolutely no experience or training. More focus on post-secondary technical training in the manufacturing trades would be hugely beneficial, and it’s something that we’re working toward.
How do local laws and regulations affect manufacturing?
Florida is not a manufacturing-friendly climate from a tax perspective. It has tangible property taxes, which means that manufacturing companies pay property tax on the value of all of our equipment. In every other state in the Sun Belt, and most states in this country, that tangible property tax on manufacturing equipment does not exist. You’re talking about many, many thousands of dollars that companies, when they’re considering where they’re going to locate or expand, wouldn’t have to pay if they move up the map.
There have been some steps in the right direction for Sarasota County, like the referendum that passed last August that allows for the county commission to create tax incentives by eliminating tangible property tax on expanding or relocating manufacturers.
What are the goals for SAMA in the next year?
To promote the welfare of manufacturing on an economic, civic and educational level. And developing tools and implementing programs to generate a skilled workforce is certainly a goal. Manufacturing is the backbone of a healthy economy. The industry has actually been very well sustained locally during this negative economic time, and it can continue to grow, create jobs and be a huge attribute to the recovery of our local economy.