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Suppose I told you that within the next five years the four North Bay counties -- Sonoma, Solano, Napa and Marin -- were poised and capable of adding 3,000 to 5,000 new manufacturing jobs?

What would you think if most of these new jobs paid wages one-fifth higher than the current median wage? How about if two-thirds of these jobs were for entry level high school graduates with just a certificate and a two-year program of training--from apprenticeships, on-the-job, accredited programs from the junior college system or the like?

Pipe dream? Hardly. 101MFG has just finished compiling responses to our survey of manufacturers in the nine Bay Area counties, so I'll defend this estimate with real numbers in a moment.

I know many of you are thinking, Manufacturing? Heck, we don't do much of that anymore in California, do we? Well, since we want to focus on "durables" and capital goods, we won't include for the moment our successful and wonderful wineries, Ag products, beverage and niche foods producer friends.

So now we're down to products like specialty equipment think industrial, food processing/cooking, aerospace, instruments, plastic and alloy medical devices, electrical & electronic, optical components, bio-pharmaceuticals, clean energy, refining and thousands of piece-parts. The products are used by other manufacturers all over the globe, and the parts go into everything from Boeing jets, NASA satellites, CISCO switches and Ford cars to consumer iPods and the cell towers that "keep you connected" in the digital age.

It might surprise you to know, besides 10 or 20 "big names," the North Bay is home to more than 500 of these durables, tech and "piece-parts" manufacturers. If we include even smaller job-shops, five employees and below, that number more than doubles.

Our survey--conducted during the last three months across "durables" manufacturers in the nine counties, yielded some surprising results:

Over one-half of 134 responses plan for local production employment to grow 50 percent or more during the next five years.

Of the 14 job categories we studied, every category is expected to hire or to replace at least 30 percent of the workforce during this time, because so many of today's workers are near retirement age.

The upper end of the jobs growth exceeds 5,000 new workers -- while the low end of our study projects 3,000 new workers, because we project employers will only replace one-third of retiring workers [increased productivity] and we assume 10 percent of the firms may close or migrate out.

But, there's a fly in the ointment: Today's tech-driven, "high-flyers" and the hundreds of precision manufacturers who supply them aren't finding the skills to replace either the aging workers they are losing, or the technical, scientific, engineering and trade skills they need.

That's right, I said "trade skills."

Again, the survey responses weren't quite what we expected. When employers were asked, "How would you rate new or prospective hires that you've interviewed in the last two years?"Fewer than one-half rated engineer/post-graduate applicants either "best" or "very competitive."Fewer than one-third rated shop, CAD/design or machinist/welder candidates in the top two categories.Just 11 percent rated operator/manual worker candidates either "best" or "very competitive."

Why the concern? Because our wages and standard of living are higher, North Bay manufacturers must compete on the basis that our workforce produces at least two to three times the output per labor hour as do their low-cost offshore competitors.

Clearly, we are not producing enough new worker candidates who meet our employers' expectations. We risk blowing our chance at a return-to-prosperity unless we do something about it.

And it's not any one category of job where we've lost ground. This is the part that I've spent the better part of my career trying to explain to public officials: If we don't have the welders and machinists and material handlers, quality inspectors and the skilled assembly specialists -- how can we expect to maintain good jobs and future opportunities for the designers, the scientists and engineers, the automation specialists and the "knowledge workers?" Who wants to do research -- an expensive proposition -- without the tangible assets to create the products and the markets that payback the investment?

Here in our own backyard, and throughout California and the nation, there is at least one bright spot to the economic downturn. Political leaders, educators, businesses and the general public are finally becoming aware of the importance of manufacturing as the basic wealth-producing sector of our economy.

That's why, this fall, 101MFG is launching "100 in 100."

 Beginning with this year's class of high school juniors and seniors, 101MFG in cooperation with our area schools, 100 manufacturing sponsors and several national and area organizations will offer:Job shadows.Short-term internships.Summer 2012 paid internships.

Our plan is to create the "All Star Farm Team" of our future skilled workforce. And because all championship teams are good "in all the positions" -- our program is no different: We want to attract young people who are interested in working with their hands -- as well as those who possess the gifts and the aptitude for science, math, and programming.

We want to help connect their educational experience to the real world and to the great career opportunities that will open to them. We want students to understand the payoff for the discipline it will take -- whether to complete a rigorous two-year program after high school -- or to go the distance and get the advanced engineering or the Ph.D.

This is an ambitious program, we'll begin in Sonoma County, but if all goes as planned, we'll gradually expand it throughout the North Bay and eventually, to the greater Bay Area.

Even though we've literally just begun, all of us feel the new energy, the unbounded optimism and a sense that we're all doing something important for our future -- a future where we return to prosperity. Are we ready?...

 Dick Herman is the president of 101MFG and can be reached at dherman@101mfg.com.