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Updated: April 3, 2023 Editorial

Editorial: Reinventing the manufacturing sector

When Chinese manufacturer WuXi Biologics first announced in 2018 it would be the first official anchor tenant of the Worcester biomanufacturing campus The Reactory, the company planned to invest $60 million into a drug manufacturing plant. Four years later, at a topping off ceremony for the facility under construction until 2024, that investment increased to some $300 million, with a near doubling of its footprint.

Both domestic and international economic conditions continue to show cause for concern, with the rippling effects of two major bank closures still visible, and uncertainties about inflation and our ability to sidestep a recession remain top of mind. Yet, certain business sectors still provide cause for optimism, and in Central Massachusetts, there’s much to like about the staying power of the manufacturing industry. The region has a rich history of making things and appears well positioned to capture the next generation of manufacturing to carry on for another century.

The three largest pillars of our regional economy are manufacturing, health care, and higher education, with manufacturing having the longest legacy. Century-plus old manufacturers like Southbridge’s Dexter-Russell and Worcester’s Polar Beverages remain strong, yet there is a growing diversity of companies in the sector. An international company, WuXi has likely doubled down on its investment in Worcester because the region’s three biggest strengths combine to its benefit: a legacy of manufacturing combined with an expertise in healthcare research, all bolstered by the skilled talent coming out of nearby institutes of higher learning.

On top of that, the federal government is finally putting its money where its mouth is in terms of investing in our manufacturing muscle, and the nation is trying to shorten supply chains with an emphasis on domestic producers, especially in key sectors. The core strengths of the Central Massachusetts economy could help turn New England into a national leader in that effort.

Manufacturers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from one-person startups to international companies with thousands of employees across multiple global facilities. For every traditional manufacturer, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of new startups, with many early-stage companies getting their start at our universities and business incubators. You can read about many of the best, most innovative companies here, in WBJ’s profiles of the Manufacturing Excellence Award winners. The future appears to be favoring the manufacturing companies of tomorrow, and this region is poised to reap the rewards.

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