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Manufacturers are looking elsewhere; State's high costs hurt in many ways.

Byline: Lisa Eckelbecker

WORCESTER - Manufacturing executives yesterday warned Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray and other state officers that housing costs, rising energy and health care expenses, and competition for workers threaten the state's ability to hold on to manufacturing companies.

In the Chicago area where Abbott Laboratories is based, new hires go on to work for the drug maker for as much as 30 years, said Joanne T. Beck, director of biologics manufacturing at Abbott's Worcester plant told state officials.

"Here, we have a very hard time keeping people for five years," she said, raising a plea for better access to information about college graduates who could become potential workers.

The request was one of many that Mr. Murray and Gregory Bialecki, undersecretary for business development, heard as they kicked off a series of forums around the state with manufacturers. About 35 people attended the session at the Worcester Technical High School.

Manufacturing employs about 300,000 people in Massachusetts, making it the state's fourth-largest employer, according to the state. With average annual wages of about $65,000 in Massachusetts, "these are the types of jobs we want to grow and expand," Mr. Murray said.

Rising exports, helped along by a weak dollar, have buoyed Massachusetts manufacturers, and companies have also made strides in becoming more efficient, said John J. Healy, operations director of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership in Worcester, an entity that consults with businesses. But Mr. Bialecki said the state cannot be complacent, especially about the costs that manufacturers face.

"We can't just shrug it off and say, `Well, we're going to be a high-cost state,'" Mr. Bialecki said.

Manufacturers raised concerns about the cost of constructing facilities on New England's rocky terrain, as opposed to the barren fields of less-developed states, and questioned whether the state should pick industrial favorites, such as biotechnology, to promote through programs.

State officials also announced a "Next Generation Manufacturing Initiative" competition that will award a business assessment package from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership to five manufacturers across the state that are seeking to increase their revenues. The competition is sponsored by the partnership, the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employer group.
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 8, 2008
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