Plenty of cities have more manufacturing jobs than Wichita. But few can match these credentials: 17.9% of employment is in manufacturing; it ranks first among the 100 largest metros in the percentage of workers in manufacturing according to the Brookings Institution, which also ranks Wichita third in very high-tech manufacturing jobs; and it’s the best city in the U.S. for manufacturing jobs.
The latter is according to a recent ranking from Illinois-based Kempler Industries, a buyer and seller of used machinery for more than five decades, which analyzed four weighted-average factors across 236 cities. The criteria are total manufacturing jobs per 100,000 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (8,386 in Wichita’s case), 2018 to 2019 year over year growth (4.8%), median income for the manufacturing industry ($51,456) and median housing cost.
Nearly 900 manufacturers employ about 54,200. That’s significantly more than comparably sized markets in Kempler’s top 10 best cities for manufacturing. And it means advanced manufacturers considering a central U.S. location will find a well-stocked labor pool for their operation. That’s helping attract manufacturers like Anderson & Forrester, which is relocating from the Denver metro area to Clearwater, southwest of Wichita. The company makes orifice and conversion fitting needs, supplying parts to original equipment manufacturers in the natural gas and propane industry. President and CEO Michele Nordahl said the location is “a great fit for our company as a manufacturing leader because of the skilled labor and also its competitive advantages related to traffic and cost of living compared to Colorado.”
In January 2020, screw and barrel maker Reiloy USA announced plans to expand its advanced manufacturing capabilities and capacity by investing more than $20 million in a new building and new machinery to grow the German-owned company’s footprint in Maize, on the northwest outskirts of Wichita. With the expansion, the company plans to grow to more than 100 employees in the next few years. Reiloy USA already has a 54,000 square-foot facility at the Maize Industrial Park and employs 68 people. It plans to hire an additional 39 people over the next few years.
“We are excited to expand in Maize in the same industrial park site as our current operations,” said Joe Piccini, Reiloy USA President. “This expansion brings additional sophisticated and proprietary equipment and technology that will benefit customers throughout North and South America.”
The German company Reifenhauser Group is Reiloy USA’s parent company. Founded in 1911 and a leading provider of innovative technologies and components for plastics extrusion, the Reifenhauser Group enables its customers to produce blown films, cast films, sheets and nonwovens of the highest quality.
Innovation Campus Adds a ‘Smart Factory’
In September 2020, Deloitte and Wichita State University announced the launch of The Smart Factory @ Wichita, a groundbreaking and immersive experiential learning environment that will accelerate the future of manufacturing as innovation and new technologies continue to reshape operations and the modern enterprise.
Deloitte and Wichita State are constructing the brand-new facility on Wichita State’s Innovation Campus, including a full-scale production line, dedicated space for select ecosystem sponsors and experiential labs exploring smart factory capabilities. A smart factory is a highly digitized and connected production facility that uses technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and robotics to manufacture products. Working alongside humans, smart factories can self-adapt and autonomously optimize manufacturing operations.
The facility is expected to open to clients, industry partners and students in 2021. It is the evolution of Deloitte’s existing experience at Wichita State, which features more than 40 robots, robotic programs and cyber applications, 26 AR/VR assets and high-end data visualizations, ten types of 3D printers, nine reverse engineering machine types, 21 professional engineering software programs and more. It offers a compelling experience in which the digital, physical and experimental come together—for educators, collaborators and clients—providing the opportunity to see how Industry 4.0 can make an impact and spur innovation and smart factory capabilities.