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Manufacturing Finds More Firm Footing Across the County

Nassco, the San Diego shipbuilding unit of General Dynamics, held a steel-cutting ceremony last month marking the beginning of work on the second of five oil tankers it is building.

The contract with American Petroleum Tankers will add about 300 additional jobs to the shipbuilder’s staff, bringing the total workforce to about 3,500. Spokesman Dennis DuBard said the added jobs are welders, ship fitters and outfitters, and electricians.

“We now have six ships in various stages of construction we’re working on, five commercial tankers and one Navy ship,” DuBard said.

Nassco’s expansion was replicated at a few other large manufacturers and at dozens of smaller local manufacturing firms, boosting the number of industry jobs to 97,400 as of November, according to the latest data from the state.

3.3% Increase

That’s up 3,100 jobs from November 2013, or 3.3 percent.

For those with skills and experience in a particular industry, things were definitely trending up in 2014, said Michele Nash-Hoff, president of ElectroFab Sales.

“This (2014) has been a year when people could find jobs,” Nash-Hoff said.

BST Nano Carbon, a specialist in carbon composite manufacturing, moved into a 65,000-square-foot office in Rancho Bernardo that once housed the printing operations of Kodak, which concluded its bankruptcy reorganization last month.

The contract manufacturer makes products for a wide range of customers, and acquired Ellsworth Handcrafted Bicycles in September. Then at about 34 workers, co-owners Gary Beck and Randy Beck said they expected to be close to 100 staffers by 2015.

The company was granted $1.4 million in tax credits from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development after it pledged to invest $22.8 million in the enterprise over five years.

Recent startups such as Bounce Composites in Oceanside were also finding traction. The firm now makes paddleboards and blades for wind turbines. Founder and President James Hedgecock said the thermoplastic composites the business works with are more durable and less polluting than traditional fiberglass and resin-based composites.

Hedgecock’s business now has nine workers, but given the wholesale contracts he’s lined up, it could rise to 15 by the end of 2015, he said.

“Our goal from the beginning was to make this an idea factory where we’re generating new technologies and new business within this niche of composites,” he said.

Taking Off

Another big contributor to the local manufacturing increase came from the region’s aerospace sector, specifically the makers of drones. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based in Poway, said its local employment grew 9 percent year over year to 4,843 as of June.

Cymer LLC, now a division of ASML NV of Holland, the makers of laser equipment used in the semiconductor industry, said its full-time workforce expanded 15 percent over the year to 975.

San Diego greatly diversified its economy following the previous major recession in the early 1990s, and that’s made a huge difference in the past several years, Nash-Hoff said. “One of our strengths is that we’re not hurt as much from the lack of new defense programs,” she said.

Blue-Tech Making a Splash

New sectors that heretofore had a small presence here are gaining ground. According to a forecast from the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego’s blue-tech segment, which includes such disparate lines as underwater technologies, robotics, and clean-water technology, supports an estimated 19,000 jobs.

Then there’s the continuing success of the region’s craft-brewing segment. From just a handful of breweries a decade ago, San Diego is now home to nearly 100 brewing companies, with more in what appears to be an inexhaustible pipeline.

Although this region and the nation lost millions of manufacturing jobs (some 5.8 million from 2000 to 2011), there’s plenty of evidence of a shift to bring back some of those jobs from Asia and other low-cost markets, Nash-Hoff said.

“There’s more businesses that are reshoring all the time,” she said. “I subscribe to six newsletters that deal with manufacturing, and there are stories about someone reshoring nearly every day.”

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