California must invest in innovative manufacturers

Ben Wong
Ben Wong is the executive director of the Industry Manufacturers Council based in City of Industry, California. Prior to his current position, Mr. Wong served as a public affairs representative for Southern California Edison and as a city council member for the City of West Covina.

California is known as a center of innovation, and to many innovation means the next big thing. That is certainly the goal of every startup or venture capital fund, but we should not forget those who are innovating to find new, efficient and sustainable ways to power our lives.

California manufacturing falls squarely in the latter category, and as executive director of the Industry Manufacturers Council, I witness the benefits manufacturers provide on a daily basis.

Beyond our state’s booming technology sector, California manufacturing also contributes to the state’s financial wellbeing. It is an engine of economic growth across the state, providing 10 percent of California’s GDP and 9.4 percent of total private employment, totaling 11.4 percent of the entire country’s manufacturing output, outpacing states such as Texas and Pennsylvania.

A successful manufacturing sector means a successful middle class. California’s manufacturers employ more than 1.3 millionpeople, and non-college educated workers can expect to make, on average, 10.9 percent more in manufacturing than similar workers in the rest of the economy. In fact, a recent study from Georgetown University found that in California, manufacturing provides some of the best prospects for those without a bachelor’s degree. To maintain these good-paying jobs, we must encourage continued investment in manufacturing including investment in energy storage.

A good example is the lead battery industry. A new study finds that lead battery manufacturers and recyclers provided more than $6 billion in labor income and more than $28 billion in economic output in 2016. With California’s high demand for energy storage, our state is poised– although not fully prepared –to capitalize on that economic benefit.

Through the growth of renewable energy production, battery demand has steadily increased. New battery technologies enable more reliable renewable energy delivery by leveling out wind and solar distribution during both high and low demand periods.  With the renewable energy market expected to provide as much as one-third of new electricity generation over the next three years the demand for lead batteries’ cost-effective and scalable energy storage will also rise. California must be ready to capitalize on this innovative, reliable, and 100 percent recyclable solution for energy storage.

The lead battery industry already contributes a significant economic benefit for California, and provides the most sustainable form of energy storage technology available. Its business model and closed-loop circular economy, recognized by the World Economic Forum and MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics as the world’s most successful example of a circular economy, ensures extremely high rates of recycling; at 99.3 percent it is the highest of any consumer product. This sustainable energy source, coupled with the fact that the average worker in a lead battery recycling facility earns on average $83,606 annually – 59 percent higher than the average U.S. wage, makes the growth potential for the lead battery industry too good of an opportunity for California to ignore.

California is indeed a leading center for innovation. However, if we want to maintain that leadership position we must remember that innovation is not limited to the next big thing or Silicon Valley start-up. Innovation in manufacturing is revolutionizing efficiency and worker safety while reducing environmental impact.

For example, California lead battery recycler Quemetco recently invested nearly $50 million for the installation and maintenance of a state-of-the-art environmental control system and monitoring devices.  Investments like these support good-paying jobs in California and provide benefits to the broader economy.

Through smart investments in promising growth sectors that promote both sustainability and renewable energy such as lead battery energy storage, we can strengthen California’s economy for everyone.

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