A Conversation with Wes Kelly

Center director for South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions, Wes Kelly was previously senior business advisor at the Dakota Manufacturing Extension Partnership, providing business assessments and designed, developed and delivered services specific to customer needs. He became Manufacturing & Technology Solutions Director for the state of South Dakota in 2010.


During his 38 years in manufacturing, Kelly has been a Plant Manager, Materials Manager, Vice President of Operations, Senior Lean Consultant and has worked in several different industries. South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions was established in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to improve the productivity and competitiveness of South Dakota’s manufacturing firms.


WIN: How important is manufacturing to the South Dakota economy?


WES KELLY: Manufacturing represents about 10% of the state’s gross domestic product, making it South Dakota’s second largest industry, just behind agriculture. And manufacturing is poised to become number one. The state’s 1,100 manufacturing companies employ 44,000, with an average annual pay of $54,000. Manufacturing has an advantage that should appeal to anyone in the workforce, with higher pay and more benefits.


WIN: What are the unique workforce development challenges faced by South Dakota’s manufacturers?


WES KELLY: Manufacturers in South Dakota have the same two basic challenges of every company: the skills gap and the lack of available workers. In our state, we’ve worked to address the skills gap, and manufacturing companies have led the way in training new hires for the specific skills they need, but we still have a shortage in our workforce. There’s no silver bullet—we know we have to focus on how to retain employees and how to create a pipeline of talent. Our organization also works with companies in adopting new technologies to address the workforce development challenge.


WIN: Why does South Dakota spotlight the manufacturing sector each year with an October Manufacturing Week?


WES KELLY: Manufacturing Week was created to help the state and South Dakota’s manufacturers address the outdated perceptions of manufacturing still held by too many people. Manufacturing is a whole different world since World War II—our industries require highly skilled, innovative employees to work in the high tech environments that are our modern manufacturing facilities. We need to get people inside a manufacturing plant to see today’s technology and get past outdated historical perceptions of dark, dirty, dangerous manufacturing operations. Today, there are many examples of modern manufacturers in the Sioux Falls area, in metal fabrication, for example, with jobs that blow your mind and a high level of technology that most people don’t even know exists. There’s an amazing level of automation in any manufacturing plant, with technology that increases exponentially, requiring more highly skilled, highly paid workers.


WIN: What is the role of South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions in growing the state’s economy?


WES KELLY: We support industry and business in the workplace—whether that's in the office, on the factory floor, at a hospital, in a bank or on the job site. With our manufacturing experts and network of industry resources, we provide the change that makes the significant difference between surviving and thriving. Our tailored solutions, university and community connections, and engineering know-how can help companies stay abreast of the latest technologies and best practices in engineering and business management. Ultimately, our aim is to help South Dakota companies increase productivity, efficiency, safety and quality, resulting in higher profits and growing businesses. Check out our programs and resources at


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