Originally published at The Daytona Beach News-Journal "Book of Lists".

Written by Jayne Fifer

Optimism abounds, but it’s up to us to make it happen

“How strong is manufacturing? Four hundred and fifty strong and growing.”

That is the opening line, spoken by Keith Landy, president of Germfree in Ormond Beach, in the new video developed by the VMA manufacturing alliance.

Jayne Fifer(2)The video shows the power and diversity of our local manufacturers, the strength of VMA, and the efforts to build the premier workforce required today.

It sets the tone for the outlook of manufacturing in our area.

2014 was an exceptional year for local manufacturing and VMA.

The good news started early in January when Sea Ray Boats in Palm Coast announced its plans to add 160 employees. Its production has continued to increase throughout the year. At last count, the plant’s work force has grown to more than 600.

And it kept coming. Boston Whaler in Edgewater completed a 58,000-square-foot expansion to accommodate its rising sales.

Complete Parachute Solutions in DeLand landed a $21.7M training contract with the U.S. Marines to provide training and technical support on free-fall and parachuting techniques.

Raydon, a manufacturer of training simulation systems in Port Orange, landed a $99.4 million contract to provide virtual-reality training simulators to the Army National Guard.

Ameritech Die & Mold in Ormond Beach announced plans for an 18,000-squarefoot expansion. Performance Designs, a parachute manufacturer in DeLand, received a new military contract, prompting its need to add 60 employees. Kingspan Insulated Panels in DeLand is adding another production line.

Energizer Personal Care Products in Ormond Beach recently announced plans to add a new manufacturing production line.

Then came the announcements of manufacturers with plans to move to our area: Aveo Engineering, a leader in international aerospace engineering, is opening a design and manufacturing operation in Flagler County with plans to hire 300 employees; Blue Coast Bakers is set to open a large commercial bakery soon in Ormond Beach; Skyo Industries, a maker of hand tools, will be relocating here from Long Island, New York, in 2015. Skyo plans to purchase the former StyleMark warehouse at the Ormond Beach Airport Business Park and convert it into a manufacturing plant that will create up to 35 new jobs.

Add to that impressive list, the national headlines throughout the year stating that manufacturing is up; that U.S. manufacturers are becoming more competitive internationally; and that manufacturing production has risen to the highest level in 10 years. Locally, Rob Ehrhardt, Volusia County economic development director, announced the average annual wage for manufacturing jobs in the county grew in the first quarter of 2014 to more than $52,000.

2014 was the strongest year for the VMA in its 34-year history. Our membership grew by 23 percent and, most importantly, VMA worked on behalf of every one of the hundreds of manufacturers in the Volusia-Flagler area to help manufacturers attract quality talent and develop the workforce pipeline. Our alliance partnered with educators to ensure students receive industry- based certifications and a direct path to a manufacturing career.

Several area manufacturers also invited students into their plants, went into their classrooms to speak about careers in manufacturing, and gave students projects to work on, such as Teledyne Oil & Gas’s development of next-generation underwater connectors for the oil and gas industry.

Juniors enrolled in the Academy of Information Technology and Robotics at Spruce Creek High School developed a production line to manufacture items for the 2015 First Robotics Competition. The students wanted to learn about lean manufacturing.

Command Medical Products in Ormond Beach mentored the students by opening its doors for a plant tour.

Command Medical executives also traveled to the academy to see the school’s production line and offer their suggestions for continuous improvement.

When asked if she would consider a career in manufacturing, Meghan Forgy, a junior at Spruce Creek High School who is involved in the academy, said, “Yes, I would consider a career in manufacturing because this is not just a straight forward business, this industry offers endless different opportunities and different jobs which all require unique skill sets bringing together many different great minds to solve problems and strive for improvement and innovation every day. I believe that it’s the kind of thinking we all need to have if we want to make a better world for us all to live in.”

The students were also asked what the most interesting thing they learned was.

Roderick Usseccery, also a junior at Spruce Creek High, replied, “The most interesting thing I learned is a lot about the manufacturing industry and how important it is to our country.”

While David Carrier, president and founder of QuantumFlo, said he is proud of the Volusia- Flagler area’s work force and available pool of talent, VMA members know we have more work to do connecting young people to manufacturing careers and building a bridge for the future of the industry.

2015 will bring more manufacturers to local classrooms and more students to local manufacturing plants as we work on creating a streamlined internship process.

Deltona’s Pine Ridge High School plans to offer manufacturing courses next year and will expand to a full academy the following year.

A recent grant from CareerSouce Flagler Volusia will help pay for curriculum materials and professional development for instructors and staff in the program. This will add another academy to the eight already in Volusia County Schools.

Today’s manufacturing jobs require more math and critical thinking skills than in the past, and that’s why the area needs an additional manufacturing- related academy to help prepare the next generation of workers.

Many people think manufacturing is for people with lower skills. They don’t understand that manufacturing companies have become increasingly high-tech, which requires highly skilled workers.

Thanks to incentives such as Florida’s manufacturing sales tax exemption, which went into effect in May 2014, the efforts of the local economic development groups and CEOs to tout the area, and our own group’s “We Make It Here” campaign to build awareness of the well-paid manufacturing career opportunities, 2015 promises to be even more successful for local manufacturers.

Keith Landy of Germfree said he believes Volusia County is an excellent place to conduct international business and that he constantly tells people he meets when he travels about what a great place we have to work. “I always encourage them to visit and they often do,” he said.

By working together, our local manufacturing sector is bound to get stronger. As it does, so will our community.