Modern manufacturing has had a profound impact on both our country and our economy. I cannot think of a more appropriate year to truly celebrate this than 2016, as we are in the midst right now of another manufacturing renaissance, right here at home.

It’s not just that manufacturing contributes so much to our local economy in Maine, creates more than 18 million jobs nationally and comprises roughly 12 percent of our gross domestic product. It’s that the sector has evolved so seamlessly into the modern workplace, where companies employ state-of-the-art technologies to deliver the best products in the world more quickly and with higher quality than ever.

Take Pratt & Whitney as a prime example, the internationally known maker of jet engines that has been a part of our community in North Berwick for decades. While Pratt’s rich history and past makes us proud, it’s its future that truly excites us.

From its ultra-modernized North Berwick plant to its world-class team of talent, this is a manufacturing facility that no longer resembles what my grandfather may have remembered when he worked in manufacturing — bright, clean, ergonomic spaces have replaced those dark, gritty plants of yesterday. It’s a whole new era which companies like Pratt & Whitney are ushering in, and with a major ramp-up in jet engine production underway — the likes of which we have not seen for several decades — the energy and passion being generated right here in our own backyard is palpable.

The beauty of modern manufacturing is the seemingly limitless reach and impact it can have, the number of businesses that can grow up and thrive within a vital manufacturing sector. For a company like Pratt & Whitney, the supply chain it depends on is integral to its success; while the company’s engines are devised and created by its own engineers, the actual construction of each engine depends on tens of thousands of suppliers, many of which are local to our area. The fact that 80 percent of the parts that make up one of these jet engines comes from the supply base speaks both to how crucial a role these smaller shops play and how expansive and collaborative the manufacturing community is.

A similar reach can be seen into the educational community, where top manufacturers like Pratt depend on local universities and community colleges for hands-on experience in building the workforce of tomorrow. Persistent outreach into local higher education institutions — including investing in courses of study and providing internship and apprenticeship opportunities — is how these companies mine the top talent for years to come. Companies like Pratt & Whitney are hiring and looking for new talent as we speak; the race to retain these highly skilled jobs is on. And with a robust manufacturing sector that is only getting bigger and better, it’s a race we can all win.

We expect this new horizon for manufacturing to define the era and inspire the next generation of leaders to continue the amazing legacy laid down a century and more again by people like Samuel Colt, Henry Ford and Frederick Rentschler. This is the group that will not only lead companies like Pratt & Whitney, but also determine the next great manufacturing frontier to follow. A century ago, it was the automobile and manned flight. A generation ago, it was the advent of the post-industrial era. What comes next? We are limited only by our imagination.

Pratt & Whitney and its fellow manufacturing giants created an industry in America nearly a century ago, an industry that built our cities and infrastructures, won our country’s wars, developed millions of careers and generated the spirit of opportunity which inspired us and made us proud to be Americans. That spirit is still with us today, alive and well in a manufacturing sector that stands poised to lead us in the 21st century. And that indeed is something to celebrate.

Barbara Finklestein, Ph.D., is president of York County Community College in Wells.

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