As the nation slowly crawls out of a recession, you might be surprised to hear what industry could lead the way to an economic recovery here in Maine.With the unemployment rate hovering around 7.6 percent this could come as a shock to some, but there are more than 1000 jobs available right now. Even more of an eye opener? Those jobs are in manufacturing, an industry that for years has been rumored to be dying on the vine. “It was falling off the cliff because the industry was changing with technology,” says Jeanne Paquette, Maine Labor Commissioner.Over the past 10 years, the manufacturing industry in Maine wasn’t dying, it was evolving. “Shoes weren’t being made like they used to be,” Paquette said. “We had a lot of things in the manufacturing area in the Lewiston-Auburn areas that started to go away.”It appears reports of manufacturing’s demise in Maine have been greatly exaggerated. What do local business owners, like Bruce Tisdale, President of Mountain Machine Works, think when they hear someone say that manufacturing is dying? “I just go, ‘How can that be?’” Tisdale asked. “It’s just impossible. And if you say everything is going overseas, so that’s how we’re getting all these parts. Electricity is manufactured and you can’t manufacture that in China. The daily bread that you eat, the newspaper that you read, the waste water that you treat, the list is endless.” Tisdale calls his business a true job shop, where they do a little bit of everything, making and fixing parts of all shapes, sizes, and designs. He’s on the front lines of Maine’s manufacturing industry, which he says is very much alive and kicking.In fact, the biggest threat to his business isn’t a lack of work, it’s the inability to find skilled workers. He said he recently had to turn down a $14,000 contract because he didn’t have enough skilled workers. It’s a nationwide problem known as the skills gap. “We couldn’t find the people 30 years ago and we can’t find the number of people that we need today,” Tisdale said.According to the Maine Department of Labor, there’s nearly 1000 unfilled machinist jobs in Maine right now. “They’re needed by General Dynamics that just got that large contract, they’re needed by Pratt Whitney, they’re needed by General Electric, by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.”Tisdale is not alone in his search for workers. At Kennebec Technologies in Augusta, where they do complex precision machining, building components used in aerospace and defense, they also build jet engine components used by companies like Boeing. “Our biggest challenge, the area where we have the biggest issue with growing, is with skilled machinists,” says owner Wick Johnson.The lack of skilled workers is not because they’re not looking. Both places we visited say they’re always hiring. With all of the major aircraft manufacturers increasing the number of planes they’re making, at Kennebec Technologies, where business is already booming, they’re looking to grow even more. “We intend to continually add people at a very consistent rate,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to add 20 people all at once, but we may add one person every other month for a very long period of time.”These jobs can be ideal for people who find themselves unemployed or underemployed, for people who used to work in industries that have gone away, such as mills, shoe shops, etc. “These are not jobs, these are careers,” Tisdale says. In part 2 of this special report, I’ll tell you more about what these jobs entail, how much they pay to start, and show you how to get on the road to having one of these careers. It’s a lot easier than you might think.