Trial by pandemic – that’s how I’ve come to see the past year. COVID-19 challenged my company to continue providing valuable and necessary products to our customers, while adapting, evolving and innovating. I’m proud to say that we, along with our colleagues nationwide, passed the test.

When COVID-19 hit, manufacturers acted decisively to protect our workers as we produced the essential goods Americans need. We pivoted quickly to overhaul factory lines to make personal protective equipment, produce vaccines and medical supplies and – in my company’s case – cut, bend and weld steel into test-tube racks for COVID-19 research, which we’d never done before.

Now I am confident that we are emerging as a more resilient and innovative industry. Manufacturers aren’t going back, not even to so-called “normal.” We’re leaping forward into Manufacturing 4.0 – the latest version of modern manufacturing that’s high-tech, 3D-printed and laser cut to meet the demands of the 21st century.

It’s an exciting era. According to the National Association of Manufacturers’ quarterly outlook survey, more than four out of five manufacturers today have a positive outlook about their company, compared with 34 percent at this time last year.

And how could we not feel optimistic? Consumer demand, business investment and job creation are exploding. Advanced tools are empowering manufacturers to design and troubleshoot products in new ways. 5G is strengthening our connections. And people across the country have deepened their support for local manufacturing, embracing products and inputs that are made in America.

We also anticipate major national overhauls. Ambitious and long overdue federal infrastructure investment, for example, may soon upgrade roads, bridges, water systems, broadband internet, electric grids, transportation and more, bringing jobs and prosperity to communities nationwide.

But there are also potential threats on the horizon. Some elected leaders are contemplating raising rates on small businesses like mine and on larger corporations, which would put America behind most of the rest of the developing and developed world, including China. After the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, manufacturers like Marlin Steel were able to ramp up hiring and grow our companies. We invested in new equipment that allowed us to bring on new workers. We shouldn’t put that at risk.

Instead, policymakers should seek ways to sustain manufacturers’ momentum. Right now, we have about half a million open jobs. We are welcoming workers displaced by the pandemic, as well as those from trade schools and certification programs and college students graduating into a job market in flux.

In fact, the manufacturing industry needs more skilled workers than the U.S. is currently educating and training. A new study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute predicts 2.1 million manufacturing positions will go unfilled by 2030 as the skills gap widens. It is critical that we raise awareness among young people, job changers, educators, parents and community leaders about the possibilities available in our industry, which is growing increasingly digital. That’s why I support the NAM and MI’s “Creators Wanted” initiative to strengthen and grow the modern manufacturing workforce.

Members of Congress and the administration have work to do as well. Reshaping education and skills training is just the beginning. Leaders can also expand export opportunities, maintain access to reliable sources of American energy, fix our broken immigration system and finally offer a secure future to Dreamers, many of whom contributed above and beyond on the health care front lines and in manufacturing operations during the pandemic. We’ll also need tax incentives for research and development, too, to replicate the kind of success story that we saw with vaccine development. Imagine what is possible – and what jobs we will create – if we do more to facilitate advancement across all economic sectors.

Marlin Steel is hosting the NAM for its annual State of Manufacturing Address, and I’m confident we’ll hear promising, optimistic news about the work our industry has done. It turns out that COVID-19 was America’s blast furnace, but it forged us into something better. Now we’re strong enough to rebuild for tomorrow.

Drew Greenblatt (dgreenblatt@marlinwire.com) is president and owner of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore and a board member of the National Association of Manufacturers.