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Riken Elastomers Salutes its Workforce on National Manufacturing Day

Thousands of U.S. factories that employ millions of workers are observing National Manufacturing Day today. There’s reason for celebration both nationally and locally.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics almost 900,000 manufacturing jobs have been added to the workforce since 2010.  Industry experts say small and medium-sized manufacturing companies that employ less than 500 people are fueling the growth and will continue to do so in the coming years.

One local manufacturer, Riken Elastomers, is a timely poster child of a small manufacturer on the rise. The company, which produces high-performance plastic compounds for the automotive industry, debuted an 81,000 square foot addition to its plant on Riken Court in early September. The $22 million expansion creates openings for 27 new employees. When the hiring process is completed the company will employ over 50 people.

President Gary Kajiyama says that Riken Elastomers biggest achievements — and the one he wants to highlight for National Manufacturing Day — is the harmony of its workforce.

“I am most proud of our company’s teamwork,” Kajiyama said. “Our company culture is based on respect, trust and cooperation. We’ve had great success in hiring good employees in the area.”

Robert Harris has worked at Riken Elastomers as a production operator since late May. In the ensuing four months Harris feels like he’s become a valued family member at company. The Cadiz resident, who retired from the Air Force as an intelligence officer in 1999, has worked several manufacturing jobs in the Hopkinsville region. He was thrilled when he discovered the company was hiring and equally pleased when he landed the job.

Harris says he was expecting he’d have to roll up his sleeves and work hard, but he was thoroughly impressed by the family-like work culture at Riken Elastomers. 

“It’s just a small group of people here, and there’s a unique and special atmosphere.” Harris said. “Everyone is treated equally. You sometimes hear people say that about a workplace.”

“It’s definitely different here,” Harris added. “Every single person — from the top to the bottom — counts. Every time you are greeted in this company, you’re told something positive.”

Gerald Bennett, the company’s general supervisor, says Harris is a “fitting example” of the type of person who does well at Riken Elastomers.

“One reason we have such a close-knit team is that we look at people for their true strengths and capabilities,” Bennett said. “I believe everyone here wants to learn and contribute. That’s the kind of person we attract. We get a lot done without having to have a high head count. It’s all part of our culture.”

Even though Harris has only been working at the company for four months, he’s already become a valued leader at Riken Elastomers. Bennett says motivated workers such a Harris can often advance quickly at smaller factories.

“Our employees end up doing a lot of cross training and learn multiple jobs,” Bennett said. “The sum of our output is greater than the sum of our parts. Robert came to us with years of experience and life lessons and a military background that contributed to his great work ethic,” Bennett added. “He is great about asking questions and getting us to think outside the box. He is one of the people helping us train new employees coming onboard because of the expansion. Robert is very instrumental in the process.”

Encouraging people to choose careers in manufacturing is one of the primary goals of Manufacturing Day. For his part, Harris suggests that veterans looking for work consider a manufacturing career. “The military gives you good preparation,” he said. “It’s all about having a team objective. You become really disciplined, learn leadership and the ability to follow directions. You learn to get along well with others. You also learn to manage people and how to resolve all your problems at the voice level. I say to other veterans, ‘Don’t be afraid to use your military experience. Just go for it.’”

Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks says Riken Elastomers extends its philosophy of treating everyone like family to the wider community. “Riken Elastomers is an outstanding corporate partner that brings so much more than jobs and economic impact to Hopkinsville,” Hendricks said. “Of course, we value those jobs and the impact on our economy.  With Riken’s recent investment, we are excited to see that impact grow even larger. But Riken really stands out because of their commitment to community as evidenced by their continued leadership in our local United Way campaign.”

“Through their own United Way giving campaign and the commitment of their volunteers, the company has helped lead the way with corporate support of United Way and the 21 agencies working to meet real human needs in our community,” Hendricks added.

Hendricks also praised the Japanese-owned company for bringing an air of international cooperation and goodwill to the region, “Hopkinsville is Kentucky’s most diverse city and that’s in large part due to the plethora of Japanese-American companies,” Hendricks said. “The partnership is a win-win for our community as it continues to expand our cultural awareness.”

5 Facts About Manufacturing

The vast majority of manufacturing firms in the United States are quite small. In the most recent data there were 251,857 firms in the manufacturing sector in 2013. All but 3,702 firms are considered to be small, having less than 500 employees. Three-quarters of these firms have less than 20 employees. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses.)

Manufacturers in Kentucky account for 19.2 percent of the total output in the state, employing 12.7 percent of the workforce. Total output from manufacturing was $36.18 billion in 2014. In addition, there were 240,200 manufacturing employees in Kentucky in 2015, with an average annual compensation of $66,287 in 2014.  (Source: National Association of Manufacturers (NAM))

Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to a skills gap. According to a recent report, 80 percent of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly-skilled production positions. (Source: Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.)

For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to the economy. That is the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. In addition, for every one worker in manufacturing, there are another four employees hired elsewhere. (Source: NAM calculations using IMPLAN.)

Over the past 25 years, U.S.-manufactured goods exports have quadrupled. In 1990, for example, U.S. manufacturers exported $329.5 billion in goods. By 2000, that number more than doubled to $708.0 billion. In 2014, it reached an all-time high, for the fifth consecutive year, of $1.403 trillion, despite slowing global growth. With that said, a number of economic headwinds have dampened export demand since then, with U.S.-manufactured goods exports down 6.1 percent in 2015 to $1.317 trillion. (Source: U.S. Commerce Department.)