For the past couple of years, a small group of manufacturing professionals has been meeting to work on initiatives designed to boost our regional manufacturing industry. About a year ago we reached out to more companies, increased participation and expanded the discussion, then formed the Pikes Peak Manufacturing Partnership. Current members range from very small companies to large area manufacturers.

Our signature event in 2014 was the SOCOM expo at the end of September. The two-day event showcased more than 50 regional manufacturing companies. The biggest impact was student participation, as roughly 2,000 students from local high schools and colleges came to learn about technology and career opportunities.

What did they learn?

They learned what the manufacturing community has known all along: The industry is not dead, there are jobs available, and those jobs typically pay more than average and include benefits. You can learn a transferable skill and you do not need a four-year college degree. Jobs range from basic entry-level skills to advanced computer programming with numerous opportunities to learn and grow. Most companies of any size do in-house training, and in many cases all you need is a good work ethic, desire to learn and commitment to your trade.

It’s not unusual to double your salary in a few years, and most people in management grew up through the ranks. Not too bad if you are not going to college. And by the way, manufacturing companies also hire engineers, IT professionals, HR professionals, accountants, programmers, logistics specialists, materials experts, etc., etc.

Some points to consider:

• Demand for U.S.-produced goods is on the rise, production is coming back to the U.S. and the future is bright.

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• Productivity, technology and innovation are making the U.S. a more attractive place to manufacture, and the U.S. economy is leading the world.

• Manufacturing jobs have a unique multiplier effect, creating demand for an average of two to three additional jobs in a community for every manufacturing job.

• Economists understand and support the need for a diversified economy with a strong manufacturing sector; manufacturing touches every other industry.

What else are we doing?

We are working with local schools and organizations on some key initiatives centered on awareness, education, internships and an apprenticeship program. We are planning a scholarship program for students interested in advanced skills required in manufacturing. We are supporting STEM and similar programs in early education, and we are working with high schools and Pikes Peak Community College to assist in building curriculum that is relevant to the needs of manufacturing companies.

Working through the Southern Colorado Business Partnership, we have developed a relationship with the Southern Colorado Manufacturing Group in Pueblo. This alliance gives us a regional structure, the preferred model for collaboration and qualification for state and federal grants.

We are working closely with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) and with the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (CAMA). We are closely affiliated with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and working with a host of local nonprofits dedicated to improving our local economy through better jobs.

We are working closely with CAMA to design and build out a SMART center in Colorado Springs, partially funded by a $6.8 million grant through OEDIT and focused on strengthening manufacturing.

Colorado’s SMART Project is focused on driving long-term economic growth in the Advanced Industries. The principles behind Strengthening Manufacturing Accelerated by Research and Technology (SMART) are straightforward: Collaboration across the manufacturing ecosystem/community; productivity and operational improvements for Colorado manufacturers; commercialization of emerging advanced technologies and developing tangible pathways from ideas to the production lines.

This project is about advancing Colorado’s existing manufacturers so they can create the products of today and tomorrow cost-effectively, creating economic opportunity for our communities.

What do we need and what can you do?

We need increased participation from area companies. We welcome help from anyone, but have committed to drive the process through manufacturing professionals willing to help increase manufacturing’s economic impact in our region.

The group will be hosting a Beers and Gears meeting Monday, Feb. 9, from 5-7:30 p.m. at Colorado Mountain Brewery, U.S. 24 & 21st Street. If you are interested in getting involved or attending the event, please contact Randy Scott, PPMP coordinator, at 213-3923 or

Tom Neppl is CEO of Springs Fabrication Inc. and past chair of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.