From Beer to Biotech, Manufacturing has Productive Power in Local Economy
By Gina Gallucci-White | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 01.13.22
Frederick County residents can take pride in many products found on the shelves of local stores because they are made right here.
Meander through an area beer store and you’ll find a number of local brews such as Flying Dog, Rockwell Brewery, Smoketown Brewing Station and Olde Mother Brewing. Need heavy-duty equipment? Head to the Home Depot, where you can rent a concrete grinder, floor stripper or concrete saw made by EDCO. If you are craving a little vitamin D, grab a gallon of Dairy Maid Dairy milk at a local convenience store.
Manufacturing is a valuable industry to have in the community, says Jodie Bollinger, Frederick County Office of Economic Development’s director of business retention and expansion. Manufacturers are hiring and training new workers with and without college degrees in a wide range of fields from production, sales, accounting and human resources. Many of the job opportunities can lead to lifelong careers. These companies are also investing in equipment and facilities as well as increasing wages and benefits to employees and giving back to the communities they call home.
The county has nearly 200 manufacturers—up 12 percent from five years ago, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. These companies offer a diverse range of products in fields such as life sciences, electronics, machinery, food and craft beverages, just to name a few. There are more than 5,400 manufacturing employees in the county, an increase of 7 percent compared to five years ago. The average weekly wage per worker is more than $1,300.
“Manufacturing is extremely important to Frederick County,” Bollinger says. “It is vital to our economy now and into the future.”
Manufacturers are located throughout the county, like the Thurmont-based Structural LLC that manufactures roof and floor trusses and wall panels. The company recently expanded to create Maryland Transload Logistics, a rail-to-truck reloading and transferring facility designed to move goods faster through the region. At the other end of the county, Kite Pharma focuses on engineered T-cell therapy in its new biologics facility in Urbana. Convincing Kite to build in the county was due partly to the county’s Turbo Fast Track Permitting, which expedites the approval process while still adhering to building standards. Frederick City is also home to a number of manufacturers, like biopharmaceutical-based AstraZeneca, air conditioning system supplier STULZ and the venerable McCutcheon’s Apple Products.
Manufacturing provides good, well-paying jobs with benefits, a strong base of employment for local residents and represents an important part of the future for the community, says Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development. “Manufacturing is really certainly one of the most important [industries] and we work very closely with our local manufacturers, with the county and with the state to try to retain them, grow them and try to attract more of them.”
Jason Stanczyk, EDCO’s vice president of operations, recalls the difficult days at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the lockdowns started. He emailed city and county economic development offices early one morning about his concerns. “When you are a manufacturing company, there are only a certain number of people that can work remotely,” Stanczyk says. “We can’t manufacture remotely. We need to be here. We need to keep producing products for customers,” he says.
By 9:30 on the same day, he and his bosses were on a conference call with economic development officials discussing ways they could stay open but also remain safe for staff. “We never had to close one day for COVID and I attribute that success a lot to that early-day COVID conversation with them. … They were enthusiastic about helping us anyway they could and I really appreciated that.”
Stanczyk and other manufacturers are quick to cite the guidance and assistance they receive from city, county and state officials as a chief benefit to their Frederick County location.
“All three of those offices have been somehow, someway very helpful to us at different times over the years,” he says. “… All of them are really high on EDCO staying in the area and EDCO growing in the area. They have always been enthusiastic about talking about manufacturing overall.”
Ben Savage, Flying Dog Brewery’s chief marketing officer, agrees that county and city economic development officials “are actively engaged with manufacturing businesses and are a source of ongoing support and advice.”
Another benefit to manufacturing in the county, according to Savage, is transportation. “Roads are the arteries through which manufacturing pulses and Frederick County is well-positioned at the intersection of major highways, which facilitates the flow of goods to major metropolitan areas and overseas.”
Stanczyk notes Frederick County’s strong agricultural background fits well with the manufacturing field. Farming is known for its strong work ethic, manual labor and other attributes that translate well to manufacturing; the rural Thurmont area has been a great source of employees for EDCO. “Anyone who comes out of that community who works for us always has success here and I think a lot of that has to do with that agricultural background,” he says.
Jon Rowley, founder and chief product officer at biotechnology and cell culture manufacturing company RoosterBio, also believes the area offers a talented workforce. “There is a really tremendous ecosystem here on cell culture,” he says. “Much of the cell culture industry evolved right here in Frederick. There is a very rich history and a lot of the early companies doing cell manufacturing started here. …With that history then comes people that have been doing this for a long time. There is a very technical, highly specific workforce in Frederick County as it relates to cell culture.”
One of the biggest challenges manufacturers are facing now are issues with the supply chain. “Everything you hear in the news about the strained supply chain is 100 percent true,” Stanczyk says. “We are manufacturing lots of metal right now. It’s what we can control, but when it comes to engines for our products, when it comes to belts, pulleys … basically it changes on a weekly basis. The supply chain to finish our manufacturing processes has been a real challenge the last several months and it is going to continue to be that way for [this year], we predict.”
Rowley agrees the supply chain is a big challenge, just in getting raw materials needed in order to manufacture. “If you have 50 different parts that go into a manufacturing process and one of them isn’t available, then you can’t run it,” he says. “We’ve gotten creative and have redesigned some manufacturing in order to make sure that we can make the products that we need to make. …We’ve been lucky and it hasn’t really impacted us more than a couple weeks at a time here and there because we have been good at production planning.”
Savage agrees supply chain is an issue, but he notes another challenge: The labor shortage is now the worst it has been since Flying Dog began operations in Frederick in 2006, with little hope for relief in the near future. “That situation is worsening,” he says.
Rowley explains the pandemic has made many reevaluate their livelihoods, with some choosing to move into different fields. His company is seeing some turnover but it is
also witnessing more people applying for jobs. “I think people are looking to RoosterBio as a destination,” he says.
He notes in the biotechnology and cell therapy manufacturing field, the city and the county have been aggressively attracting new companies to the area. “While there are short-term labor shortages, I think what [our industry] does is it really helps to build the ecosystem. I really do believe that Frederick is building a really strong ecosystem here for cell culture manufacturing.”
2022 AND BEYOND
Local officials say the outlook for this year and beyond is strong. “The manufacturing industry overall has rebounded since the start of the COVID pandemic,” Bollinger says. “That is the good news. They have solid demand and output and an optimistic outlook for the months ahead, despite the challenges that they face with supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages and the rise in raw material costs. Overall, the industry looks good. It looks good for the county and we are really excited to see what 2022 brings.”
Going further into the year, Bollinger believes manufacturers will increase operational efficiency by investing more into technology like artificial intelligence and robotics to increase their factory efficiency.
Griffin says over the last five years, manufacturing employment in the city has increased annually about 1 percent each year. For this year, it is estimated the city will continue to see between a 1 to 2 percent increase in manufacturing employment.
To further help manufacturers, the county will be launching a new website this month, MadeinFrederickMD.com. The site was developed to showcase a positive image of the county’s manufacturing industry and provide information to companies considering starting, locating or expanding here.
“It will really be a tool that our manufacturing industry can use because it will have resources that are available to our manufacturers, a manufacturer directory and a job board where companies can post their positions that they have available,” Bollinger says. “There is nothing really like this and we felt that we wanted to provide a tool where manufactures can have this [website] for resources, job postings and finding out what other manufacturers are here so they can further connect with them. In addition to having this tool with those tabs and resources, we are highlighting some of our manufacturers each month.”
Later in the year, there are additional plans to work with educational providers and Frederick County Public Schools to discuss the benefits of manufacturing, getting students more involved and teach them what the field has to offer.