High-Performing Port and Workforce Training Drive Global Manufacturing in South Carolina

October 17th, 2017

Last week I had the opportunity to spend two days visiting the Charleston, South Carolina metro area as the guest of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA).  Claire Gibbons, Director of Global Marketing & Communications, was my hostess, and told me that if you drew a line along the 32nd parallel across the U. S. from San Diego, you would wind up at Charleston.  Like San Diego, Charleston is a major port, being the deepest port along the south Atlantic coast, able to handle ships with up to 48 ft. draft, depending on tides. Charleston is about 50% lower in population than San Diego (761,000 vs. 1.407 million (2016), but is growing 3X faster than the U.S. average (14.5% vs. 4.7%).

Charleston is a military town like San Diego and is home to Joint Base Charleston, one of twelve joint facilities operated by the Department of Defense; the U.S. Space & Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SPAWAR), one of the Navy’s only two cyber mission engineering centers; and nearly all U.S. Dept. of Defense and Dept. of Homeland Security agencies. These facilities represent more than 23,000 active duty, civilian and contract civilian personnel.

Our first stop on my visit was the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCSPA), where we met with James Newsome, III, President and CEO.  He said “Charleston meets the needs of today’s global shipping industry, particularly as large vessels are deployed to East Coast trade routes. Our South Atlantic location is a significant driver of the Port of Charleston’s above-market average cargo volume growth, offering proximity to the fastest growing population in the U.S., as well as a booming manufacturing economy.”

He said, “We just received approval to dredge to 52 ft. depth to be able to handle the new, larger container ships that are coming online.  Two new taller cranes just came online (155 ft. vs. 115 ft.), and we have two more on order to install in 2018. We are also raising four existing cranes, for a total of eight cranes offering 155 ft. of lift height. We have three active cargo terminals now, and a new terminal is in development on the former Navy Base.

One of our terminals is a drive off terminal for automobiles, and the other two handle container ships. The new terminal will also handle container ships. The larger container ships are 13,000 TEUs in capacity. We also built a new rail connection from Charleston to the Inland Port in Greer to able to reduce truck congestion at the port and expedite rail shipments out of the region. “

As we drove around the terminal that has the new cranes, I was dismayed to see thousands of containers from Chinese and German shipping lines, but was encouraged when Mr. Newsome said that according to the latest report, Charleston is the port that is the most balanced in terms of imports and exports on the Atlantic coast. The port is also seeing good growth in exports of manufactured goods. The three terminals turn over the entire number of containers every 7-10 days.

Mr. Newsome said, “Charleston ships more tires than any other port in the United States.  Michelin came in the 1970s and has invested $6-7 billion in their manufacturing facilities. BMW came in 1994 and has invested about $10 billion in their facilities. About 70% of BMWs are shipped out of the Charleston port from the entire line made in the U. S. Boeing built a plant in 2009. Mercedes-Benz Vans is building their new Sprinter vans here. Volvo will open a new $500 million facility near Ridgeville in 2018. Five companies represent about 70% of our shipping volume.”

After I returned home, I found this important data on the Port’s website: “A 2015 study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business concluded that the Port’s statewide impacts include:

  • $53 billion in annual economic activity
  • 187,600 jobs
  • $10.2 billion in labor income
  • 10 percent of total annual gross state product
  • $912 million in tax revenue”

Besides cars, tires, and other manufactured goods, Mr. Newsome said that the major products shipped out of Charleston are: agricultural (soybeans, grains), forest products (including diaper pulp, poultry, and pork.

According to the SCSPA website, the five fast-growing business sectors for the Port are:

  • Automotive manufacturing
    •Consumer goods distribution
    •Refrigerated/frozen exports
    •Transloading resin & grain
    •Tire manufacturing & distribution

Charleston shares some of the same industry clusters that San Diego has:  Aerospace, Information Technology, and Life Sciences. Their other two largest industry clusters are automotive and logistics. The following chart derived from data on the CRDA website shows the top ten manufacturers ranked by number of employees:

Company Products Employees Nationality
The Boeing Company
Aircraft manufacturing 7,400 American
Robert Bosch LLC Antilock brake systems, fuel injectors 1,800 German
SAIC Electronic security and communications systems 1,500 American
BlackBaud Inc Specialty computer software 1,300 American
Kapstone Charleston Kraft LLC Specialty paper & packaging 1,000 American
Nucor Steel Carbon & alloy steel 1,000 American
IFA North America LLC Automobile drive shafts 600 German
Mahle Behr Engine cooling systems 375 German
BAE Systems Electronic security and communications systems 350 British
V. T. Milcon Fabrication & assembly of communications systems 275 British

On our drive to our next appointment, I asked Claire to fill me in on the South Carolina business climate, so I could understand why so many foreign companies have established plants in the state. She said, “South Carolina offers a strategic location, particularly for companies based in Europe, and a business-friendly climate. We are a “right to work” state with one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the south.” There are other benefits shown on the CRDA website: “no state property tax, no local income tax, no inventory tax, no sales tax on manufacturing machinery, industrial power or materials for finished products, no wholesale tax, and no unitary tax on worldwide profits.”

Claire added that another big advantage is that when a company relocates or expands to South Carolina, they can get training at little to no cost for their employees through readySC™, a division of the South Carolina Technical College System.  ReadySC’s mission is to “To promote the economic and workforce development of the state of SC. We provide customized training for new and expanding business and industry in the state of SC…”

Later in the day, I had the opportunity to visit the Mercedes-Benz Vans Training Center, where I met with Terrance Rivers, Area Director of readySC™, Susan Pretulak, V. P. Economic Development of the SC Technical College System., and Alyssa Bean, responsible for communications at Mercedes-Benz Vans manufacturing plant.

Ms. Pretulak said, “The Division of Economic Development works to not only attract new and expanding companies to the state but also provide the workforce development tools necessary to make certain they grow and prosper in South Carolina over the long term. The division is touted as providing a comprehensive solution for companies looking to grow their workforce in South Carolina. Housed within the division are the System’s nationally renowned statewide programs — readySC™ and Apprenticeship Carolina™.”

She explained, “Training is state-funded and is open to companies who will hire 10+ new, permanent, full-time employees with benefits.  There is a simple two-page agreement to participate in the program.  We have 16 technical colleges in our system, and each college has a readySC™ group. We are working with 89 companies at present.  We have two programs: (1) Pre-hiring Training, which is an unpaid training experience to provide potential employees for a company client and (2) Post-hiring Training, which is job specific training, such as welding, machining, assembly, etc.”

I asked if they have developed their own curriculum or do they use the SME ToolingU curriculum, and she said, “Some of both.” Mr. Rivers said. “We have a three-phase program:  Design, Discovery, and Delivery to customize the training to meet a company’s needs. Daimler was one of our first clients before they switched their name to Mercedes-Benz Vans. They make the Sprinter van at their plant.”

The readySC website expands on the requirements to participate in the program, specifying: To qualify, we require that:

  • Jobs projected must be permanent.
  • Pay represents a competitive wage for the area.
  • Benefit package must include health insurance.
  • Number of jobs created must be sufficient enough to allow readySC™ to provide training in a cost-effective manner.

Ms. Pretulak informed me that the SC Technical College System is also responsible for the Apprenticeship Carolina™ program, which “works to ensure all employers in South Carolina have access to the information and technical assistance they need to create demand-driven registered apprenticeship programs. At no cost to the employer, apprenticeship consultants are available to guide companies through the registered apprenticeship development process from initial information to full recognition in the national Registered Apprenticeship System.

The program started with 90 apprenticeship programs in 2007, and now has 918 programs today, representing 14,475 apprentices. One in three participating employers offer programs in more than one occupation.  The target industries are:  advanced manufacturing, construction technologies, energy, health care, information technology, and tourism and service industries. The total number of apprentices trained to date is 26,864, and the program is averaging more than 120 new apprentices per month.

At dinner that evening, I met Robin Willis, Associate Vice President, Talent Pipeline Strategies for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.  She said, “We are very proud of the growing number of Youth Apprenticeship students and their hosts in our region. We feel strongly that this program provides life changing experience for students and helps companies fill their critical Talent needs, so much so we have funded the program in its entirety. There are 105 Youth Apprentices currently in the workforce – 66 new ones that started in August 2017 and 39 who started their 2nd year in August 2017 and will complete the program in June 2018.

I told everyone that I haven’t visited any other state that has such comprehensive training and apprenticeship programs, and I am very impressed by what South Carolina has to offer to existing and relocating companies. It is no surprise that so many foreign companies are choosing South Carolina to establish or expand their U.S. presence. Other states (particularly California) would be smart to emulate the business incentives and training programs offered by South Carolina.

Threat to the American Patent System and Inventors’ Rights

October 10th, 2017

On August 11, 2017, a group of inventors went to the United States Patent Office to make a statement and give testimony against new patent laws that promote the theft of our intellectual property instead of protecting it. Afterward, the inventors demonstrated in front of the Patent Office, and several burned their patents.  Michael Caputo, Managing Director of Zeppelin Communications, stated, “Patents have become worthless.”  The C-Span video of the protest can be viewed here.

Why is the American patent system and inventors’ rights being threatened?  In September 2011, Congress passed and the president signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) that changed the U.S. patent system to the party “first to file” instead of the “first to invent to bring the U.S. in line with other countries who adopted first to file patent systems years ago, supposedly to simplify the patent process for companies that file applications in multiple countries. Its central provisions went into effect on September 16, 2012 and on March 16, 2013.

At the time, supporters said it would improve patent quality by creating a new process for reviewing patents after they have been issued and allow third parties to provide information on other parties’ applications.

Opponents argued that there was no reason to change the U.S. system, and inventors and small businesses complained that switching to a “first to file” system would give large companies an advantage and hurt individual inventors.

To find out what has happened to the American Patent System and Inventors’ Rights since 2011, I requested information from Randy Landreneau, Founder Independent Inventors of America, Paul Morinville, Founder US Inventor, and Adrian Pelkus, President of San Diego Inventors Forum.

Randy Landreneau: “America has been the most innovative country on earth from the start. A key reason for this is the revolutionary patent system created by our Founders that provided intellectual property rights to any man or woman, rich or poor. The rest of the world had systems that were for the aristocracy and those favored by the powerful…America maintained a superior system in protecting the intellectual property rights of inventors until …the passage of The America Invents Act in 2011…While it is hard to quantify the effect of changing to First-to-File, this change does place a disadvantage on the independent inventor relative to the large corporation. But another change has had very measurable negative effects.

The America Invents Act created new and easier ways to invalidate an existing patent. Prior to this, to invalidate a patent required going to a judicial court with its various protections offered to the holder of a property right. The America Invents Act created procedures for an administrative court, the PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeals Board), that does not have the same protections. Approximately 70% of the patents that companies try to invalidate using the PTAB get invalidated.

There are efforts underway to get the PTAB procedures ruled unconstitutional or at least reigned in and similar to the procedures of a Judicial court. Certainly, the PTAB procedures are doing great harm to American innovation.”

A more recent bill was even worse – The Innovation Act (H.R. 9), which passed the House in December of 2013. But, the Senate version (PATENT Act, S.1137) was fought effectively and did not pass the Senate.  However, these bills were reintroduced in subsequent sessions of Congress until the summer of 2016, when it became clear these bills were not moving forward.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent pushing a false narrative that nefarious entities called “patent trolls” are using frivolous litigation to make companies pay them unfairly. More often, in actuality, an inventor has a patent that is being infringed by large corporation that he cannot afford to fight in court. So, he sells his patent to a company that does have the wherewithal to fight in court (a non-practicing entity or NPE), and the infringer loses because he is guilty.

One element of the Innovation Act was ‘Loser Pays.’ If an inventor sues a corporation for patent infringement and does not win, he could be liable for the infringer’s legal costs. This could be more than $5,000,000. This liability would also be a personal liability to an investor with an interest in the patent (piercing the corporate veil and placing personal assets at risk).

There are still efforts underway by multinational corporations to get a similar bill passed in the future. Currently, there is the threat that something similar to the Innovation Act will come back.

But, the more current threat is how the courts have been moving toward not considering a patent as the property right that it has been for 200 years. A three-judge panel actually ruled that a patent is a public right. If the courts start to widely regard patents as not being property rights, as some feel they are already doing, this will greatly harm American innovation. If a court does not respect the rights of an inventor, court procedures end up being applied in ways that work against him. Recently, there have been numerous cases where judges ruled that a patent was too abstract, and the inventor was not given the normal due process of providing witnesses, testimony, or otherwise fighting to retain his intellectual property.

There is an effort underway to get the U. S. Supreme Court to take up this issue and rule in the favor of patents being property rights. If this effort succeeds, we will have, at least temporarily, stopped the erosion of inventor rights that are so important to this great nation. I and others are involved in fighting to maintain the rights of inventors, and to expand them where they have been reduced in recent years.”

Paul Morinville wrote his opinion in a paper titled, “We’ve Been Googled,” when H.R. 9 looked like it would pass in which he stated that “H.R.9 creates a Patent System without Inventors. Over the last decade, Google and others have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby Congress and produce an ingenious ‘patent troll’ narrative, which distorts the reality of invention in America. In this decade long war on inventors, H.R.9 is the Google lobby’s latest accomplishment. Not surprisingly, H.R.9 is not directed to fixing the fictional problem of ‘patent trolls.’ Instead, H.R.9 mounts its considerable damage on the patent system in general, specifically harming inventors and small patent-based businesses.”

Morinville explained, “If this bill becomes law, inventors will not be able to enforce their patent rights against moneyed corporations like Google. However, moneyed corporations like Google will still be able to enforce their patents against small businesses with even more devastating consequences to those small businesses. Patent litigation is about risk and cost versus reward. If risk or cost is too high in relation to reward, a patent cannot be enforced.”

Adrian Pelkus: “I’m an inventor named on 14 issued patents and have made my life as a serial entrepreneur doing new product development for over 30 years. Along the way I have created many startups and raised millions of dollars on the back of IP. I have coached inventors and startups every Thursday since 1985 and have run one of the larger inventor clubs in the U. S. since 2005, the San Diego Inventors Forum (www.sdinventors.org.)

He said, “What is most absurd about the America Invents Act to American inventors is the fact that with PTABs we can lose our ISSUED PATENTS… A company challenging a patent wins 90% of the time. The cost to defend is so expensive that inventors give up and are unable to afford achieving their dreams.”

Now, issued patents guaranteed as a Property Right in the constitution are being challenged. A business that infringes would just pay a royalty to the inventor if found guilty hence ‘efficient infringement.’ The biggest incentives to create new ideas and businesses are weakened because the guarantee that an issued patent will protect your IP interests and investments is gone. Patents can now become liabilities. The proposed bills to penalize an inventor with loser pays and threatens to make their investors pay was beyond absurd; it would be economic and intellectual suicide. The end of our rights and hopes as inventors is in plain sight.”

Adrian became connected to Randy Landreneau and Paul Morinville when they reached out to other inventor groups, and he was invited to join the fly-in to Washington, D.C. to fight H.R.9 in April 2015. After that fly-in to Washington, D.C. he became focused on fighting against bills that would destroy our patent system and joined the board of US Inventor in August 2016. He was already on the board of the United Inventors Association and had been working to unite the inventor clubs and groups nationwide.

In January, 2017, the Policy Panel of US Inventors authored a USI Policy Section 101 paper and in February, it was determined that they had to “get as many inventors as possible calling Congress and writing about the threat of a new bill.” 

Adrian said, “I sent out my first call to action to all the clubs and sent a second one the next week and every week since. I discussed the plan to unite the groups and clubs with Stephen Key of Invent Right and Louis Foreman of Edison Nation, who asked how they could help. With their help, we have united 24 inventor groups nationwide to fight the threat to our American patent system and protect inventors’ rights.

I established a bimonthly phone conference with the heads of the biggest organizations in the inventor community, inventor clubs, and individual inventors in an effort to create a coalition that would support a petition that reflects our concerns about and suggestions to change the America Invents Act. This coalition is a historic cooperation that will unite the inventor community and bring a voice to Washington, D.C. they need to hear!

We now have a petition that we believe will help make America great again by making it a great place for American Inventors again. This petition represents concerned citizens, inventors, entrepreneurs, and businesses from coast to coast. I’m proud to contribute my efforts to help America by restoring its patent system. 

I agree with Landreneau, Morinville, and Pelkus that the America Invents Act is gradually destroying the American Patent System. If a bill similar to H. R. 9 passes Congress, it would the final nail in its coffin.

Why is this important? Because most new technologies, especially break-through or disruptive technologies, come from individual inventors who either start a company or license their technology to companies that are more able to take them to the market.

As a mentor for San Diego’s CONNECT Springboard accelerator program and fellow director on the board of the San Diego Inventors Forum with Adrian Pelkus, I work with inventors designing new products or break-through technologies. Local inventors have the opportunity to compete in the San Diego Inventors Forum annual invention contest for best new consumer product or best new technology. All contestants must have applied for at least a Provisional patent before they can participate. The future success of their product or technology is contingent upon their having a patent they can protect from infringement. Their ability to raise the financial investment they need to bring their product to the marketplace depends upon their being able to protect their patent. No investor will take the risk of investing in a product or technology that cannot be protected.

Please join the American inventors coalition formed by Adrian Pelkus, Randy Landreneau, Paul Morinville, and others to save American inventors by signing the petition at http://www.usinventor.org/petition.

 

How Tax Reform Could Grow our Economy and Create Jobs

September 19th, 2017

Over 150 countries in the world have shifted a significant portion of their tax mix to border adjustable consumption taxes – value added taxes (VATs) or goods and services taxes (GSTs).  Consumption taxes are “border adjustable taxes” and allowed under World Trade Organization rules. Consumption taxes are a tax on consumption – as opposed to income, wealth, property, or wages. Consumption taxes are called goods and services taxes in Canada, Australia, New Zealand or value added taxes in other countries.  They are usually a tax only on the incremental value that is added at each level of the supply chain to a product, material or service. Most countries VATs or GSTs are tariff and subsidy replacements, mimicking a currency devaluation if a country raises the VAT or GST and uses proceeds to lower purely domestic taxes and costs.

After 40 years of multilateral tariff reduction, other countries replaced tariffs with VATs but the U.S. did not. American export­ers face nearly the same border taxes (tariffs + consumption tax) as they did in the early 1970s. Foreign VATs are export subsidies as they are rebated to companies that export their goods. For example:

  • Mexico established a 15% VAT after NAFTA
  • Central American countries established a 12% VAT after CAFTA
  • Germany raised its VAT to 19% in 2007 to fund business tax reduction for trade competitiveness

The rates range from 12% to 24% and average 17% globally. This means that virtually all foreign countries tax our exports at 17% on top of tariffs. They subsidize do­mestic shipments abroad with the average 17% tax rebate. The figure below illustrates how it works.

U.S. Local Price = $100

 

China Local Price = $100

 

U.S. Price PLUS 17% VAT = $117.00

 

Chinese Price MINUS 17% VAT rebate = $85.47

 

The map below shows which nations have consumption taxes (red) and which do not (blue).

 

Because foreign consumption taxes are border adjustable, companies that export are double taxed. They pay U. S. taxes and the foreign border tax.  Importers can sell cheaper products because they receive a consumption tax rebate from their home country and do not pay U. S. VAT.

Eliminate Payroll Tax Burden with the most efficient VAT in world

In written testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives on May 18, 2017, the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) recommended “a new border adjustable consumption tax (Goods and Services Tax) that funds a full credit against all payroll taxes.”

Highlights from the testimony paraphrased or quoted include: “A new U.S. goods and services tax (GST) of approximately 12% should be enacted to shift taxation to consumption using the credit/invoice method. The proceeds should be credited against payroll taxes paid by all workers and businesses. GST proceeds should be applied as a full credit against the 15.3% rate of payroll taxes to reduce the cost of labor in the US while increasing after tax wages.

Exported goods and services would receive a full rebate. Imports would pay the GST. Small business with less than, for example, one million dollars could be exempted without sacrificing significant tax revenue.”

CPA’s written testimony explained, “Domestic prices vs. wages would not worsen because the payroll tax is embedded in the cost of all goods and services. Thus, eliminating the payroll tax lowers the prices for goods and services or increases wages depending upon the particular competitive forces in each product sector. A GST raises goods and services prices, but the GST/payroll tax combination would largely cancel each other out thereby holding the domestic economy harmless.

The more modern GSTs implemented by free market economies are in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The compliance and administration burdens are relatively low in comparison to other taxation methods. The U. S. can learn from those and other countries’ experiences to implement the most modern, streamlined GST in the world.”

In summary, the proposed GST would

  • Reduce the cost of labor in the U. S.
  • Give every worker a raise
  • Lower price of U/ S. exports
  • Levy a tax on imports

The following are some of the benefits of a payroll tax credit for manufacturers, ranchers, and farmers:

  • Regressiveness of VAT offset by elimination of regressive payroll tax
  • VAT costs on all domestic producers are offset
  • No impact on prices of domestic goods/services
  • Imported goods/services prices increase
  • Cost of production for exports reduced

Change to a Sales Factor Apportionment (SFA) Border Adjustable Profit Tax

 Last year, I wrote an article about corporate tax reform at the federal level based on the Sales Factor Apportionment Framework proposed by one of the members of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, Bill Parks. Mr. Parks is a retired finance professor and founder of NRS Inc., an Idaho-based paddle sports accessory maker. He asserted that “Tax reform proposals won’t fix our broken corporate system… [because] they fail to fix the unfairness of domestic companies paying more tax than multinational enterprises in identical circumstances.”

He explained that multinational enterprises (MNEs) can use cost accounting practices to transfer costs and profits within the company to achieve different goals. “Currently MNEs manipulate loopholes in our tax system to avoid paying U. S. taxes… MNEs can legitimately choose a cost that reduces or increases the profits of its subsidiaries in different countries. Because the United States is a relatively high-tax country, MNEs will choose the costs that minimize profits in the United States and maximize them in what are usually lower-tax countries.”

The way his plan would work is that the amount of corporate taxes that a multinational company would pay “would be determined solely on the percent of that company’s world-wide sales made to U. S. customers. Foreign MNEs would also be taxed the same way on their U. S. income leveling the playing field between domestic firms and foreign and domestic MNEs.”.

The Board of the Directors of the Coalition for a Prosperous America chose to support Sales Factor Tax Apportionment and included the following in their testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee:

“The US corporate tax system harms America’s trade competitiveness, overtaxes income from wages, under taxes consumption, and is bad at actually collecting what is owed. It also enables rampant base erosion through transferring profits to tax havens or countries with lower corporate tax rates. Full reform centered around destination based, border adjustment principles can result in an efficient, trade competitive, and largely tamper-proof tax system.

SFA is a destination based profit tax. Pretax income is allocated to the US in proportion to the percentage of a company’s total sales in the U. S. Pre-tax income earned outside the US is not taxed. Tax rates can be lowered substantially while still meeting revenue targets.”

The Coalition for a Prosperous America favors “a border adjustable business tax (for all entity types) which allocates pre-tax income based upon the destination of sales. Formulary apportionment based upon a single sales factor (sales factor apportionment or SFA) is well established at the state level. It solves most of the base erosion/profit shifting and tax haven abuse problems facing tax writing committees. SFA eliminates the disparate tax treatment between domestic companies (who pay the full income tax burden on worldwide income), multinationals (many of which shift profits to tax havens), and foreign companies (which pay a territorial income tax).

A broad based 12% GST could raise $1.4 trillion in new revenue. Payroll tax revenue in 2015 was 33% of total tax revenue at $1.056 trillion.”

CPA asserts that U. S. “trade competitiveness would be substantially improved because exports are freed from both the GST and payroll tax burden. Imports never include the cost of the U. S. payroll tax, but would pay the GST. This effect has been called Fiscal Devaluation because it mimics a currency devaluation for trade purposes. It only works if you combine a new GST with a ubiquitous domestic tax or cost reduction. The optimal domestic tax reduction is the payroll tax burden.”

The reason for CPA’s support is that “SFA taxes pre-tax income allocated to the U. S. but not profits allocated to foreign sales.  Domestic firms can legitimately ‘avoid’ taxation by exporting more. Profits from imports are subject to tax. Domestic, multinational and foreign firms are on an equal tax footing.

The current corporate tax system cannot be fixed because it allows the fiction of intra-firm transactions to erode the tax base.  Multinational companies use them to self-deal, strictly for tax purposes, shifting income to tax haven jurisdictions.  Companies sell products or services to themselves, governed only by an ‘arm’s length’ principle which allows them to create their own pricing terms subject to a nearly unenforceable ‘fair market value’ constraint.

The intra-company transactions are not free market, ‘arm’s length’ or true third-party transactions. The only economically meaningful ‘sale’ is one to a true third party outside the company.  As much of 30% of tax revenue may be lost from profit shifting to tax haven jurisdictions which have effective tax rates of 0-4%. These include Bermuda, Netherlands, UK Caribbean Islands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Singapore, and Switzerland.”

The CPA testimony provides the following example: “Assume a multinational corporation has worldwide sales of $100 billion, $50 billion sales in the U. S. and company-wide pretax income of $10 billion. Fifty percent of the profits, under SFA, are apportioned to the US.  So, the profits to be taxed in the USA in this case are $5 Billion.  Using a 20% corporate tax rate yields a SFA tax of $1 billion. Intra-company transactions with a Bermuda subsidiary would be irrelevant.

Merely lowering the U. S. corporate tax rate for example to 15% without further reform would not eliminate the tax competition with tax haven jurisdictions. SFA would make tax havens irrelevant because true sales to any foreign country would be ignored.  IRS litigation centered around the proper fair market value of intra-firm transactions would disappear. Only profits allocated to the US in proportion to true third-party sales would be taxable.”

CPA asserts that “SFA would allow a significant reduction in the business tax rate while collecting similar revenue because base erosion is largely fixed. By one estimate, a 13% corporate tax rate under SFA would collect the same revenue as the current system…”

In conclusion, CPA recommends, “The U. S. tax system should shift to more border adjustability through destination based taxation. If the House GOP Blueprint does not gain Senate or White House support, the Ways and Means Committee has solid alternatives to meet their goals. CPA supports enacting (1) a new GST to fund a full credit against payroll taxes, plus (2) a shift to sales factor apportionment of global profits as an alternative to our current corporate income tax system.”

We need to take bold action if we want to rebuild our manufacturing industry to create jobs and prosperity. As I visit district offices of our California Congressional delegation as chair of the California chapter of CPA, I am encouraged by the interest these recommendations for tax reform are generating on a bi-partisan basis.

 

Do Low American Savings Rate Cause Trade Deficits?

September 2nd, 2017

Mainstream trade news continues to assert that trade deficits don’t matter. Economists help reporters write these fake news stories by claiming that America’s failure to save money is the problems, not foreign trade cheating. On June 20, 2017, the Coalition for a Prosperous America released a research paper titled “Do Savings Rates Cause Trade Deficits? by Michael Stumo (CEO) and Jeff Ferry (Research Director) that shows why globalist economists are wrong about what causes trade deficits, offshoring and job losses.

They write, “A popular, but misleading, claim is that low US savings, relative to investment, causes our trade deficit. For exam­ple, Harvard professor and former Reagan administration advisor Martin Feldstein.has said that the US fiscal defi­cit, which indeed reduces national savings, is the cause of the trade deficit. ‘If a country consumes more than it produces [thus saving little], it must import more than it exports.’”

These macroeconomists “claim that Americans spend too much, save too little, produce too little, and thus must import to support their gluttony.” They are incorrect.

White House economists use the “savings rate causes trade deficits” claim to create the false illusion that nothing can be done. But the real problem is that a few foreign countries – like China, Japan, Germany and South Korea – have economic strategies to overproduce, under consume and ship their overcapacity to the US. Their growth strategy is their full employment program. They export their unemployment to the US.

DISTINGUISHING CAUSES FROM MATHE­MATICAL INTERRELATIONSHIPS

To macroeconomists, the ”National savings, investment and net trade are variables within equations or formulas known as ‘national income identities’. Because the variables are within the identity, they are called “endogenous’ and are explained by the equation.” But they do not explain what causes the changes.

“The basic Gross Domestic Product equation is referred to as a national income identity, expressed in the following equation:

GDP = C + I + G + NE

C = Consumption; I = Investment, G =  Government and NE = Net Exports. Net Exports are also expressed as X – M in another version of this equation. When the Net Exports is a negative figure as it has been since 1979, this reduces the GDP.  According to previous research by the Coalition for a Prosperous America, “the annual trade deficit has reduced each year’s GDP by some 3% to 5.5% each year, and those reductions compound over time.”

The purpose of the paper is to explain “how to distinguish (a) causation from (b) math­ematical interrelationships in the national income identity or equation that underlies this debate. For reasons explained below, real world changes (exogenous factors) outside the identity are the true causes. These real-world changes directly impact one or more variables within the identity, transmitting through the equation by mathematical necessity. In short, na­tional savings is related to the trade deficit in an accounting sense but does not cause it.”

Government policies often affect each one of the variables of the above equation. For example, the income tax rate may affect Consumption.  If rates are high, then American consumers have less money to devote to consumption.  If Government consumption and expenditures through procurement is down as it was under Sequestration, then companies that sell to the government make less money and have less money to buy products as business and corporate consumers.

To clarify the relationship between savings and trade deficits, the authors cite Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute: “Accounting identities do not, and cannot, explain the causal relationships between savings, investment, and trade flows. Do low savings rates cause trade deficits, or does causation run in the other direction? A trade deficit reduces the incomes of domestic workers, pushing many into lower income brackets. Families with lower incomes gen­erally find it much harder to save. Therefore, increasing trade deficits can and do reduce national savings.”

DEBUNKING THE MORALITY VS SAVINGS RATE HYPOTHESIS

International economists in important positions “im­plicitly argue that no policy action is necessary or effective because US citizens simply do not save enough. We have caused our own problem. Our immoral, gotta-spend-it-now culture must become more austere.”

However, the authors explain that “National savings, in the context of the national in­come identity, is the aggregate of household, business and government savings. It is the extent to which national in­come exceeds private and public spending.

Household savings can, for example, go down if family earnings fall but they spend the same as before on necessities. Taxes or interest rates could go up causing con­sumers to spend less. Neither cause has anything to do with financial morality.”

Instead, government policies can and do affect savings rates. The authors state, “Surplus countries such as Germany and China have been deficit countries in the past… with low savings rates and trade deficits. Their cultural propensity to spend or save did not miraculously change…policy changes in the 1990’s and 2000’s caused trans­fers of wealth from households to industry forcing less consumption and more production at increased scale and with very competitive prices. The result was more national savings and trade surpluses.”

HOW OVERSUPPLY IS TRANSFERRED TO DEFICIT COUNTRIES

The authors show how the oversupply (overproduction) of some countries is transferred to other countries causing them to become deficit countries.  They write; “All countries cannot run trade surpluses. Offset­ting deficits must exist elsewhere. The primary reason for a country to engineer persistent surpluses is to spur domestic employment by excessive reliance upon foreign consumers. The deficit country, however, experiences de­valuation of its formerly well employed labor.”

They point out that in 2005, “then-Federal Re­serve Board chairman Ben Bernanke argued that the large and growing U.S. current account deficit is caused not by anything happening in the U.S., but by decisions taken by emerging economy nations to run very high savings rates, pursue export-led growth, and lend money to other countries, especially the U.S. He called the situation a ‘global savings glut.’ These excessive inflows of foreign savings raise the U.S. dollar exchange rate, drive down our interest rates, and force our economy into a trade deficit.”

The method by which this transfer takes place is described by Professor Michael Pettis, quoted in the paper:

“If any country takes steps to change the gap between its total domestic savings and its total domestic investment, then those steps must also affect its trade balance. Because a change in one country’s trade balance must be matched with an opposite change in the trade balance of all other countries, there must also be an opposite and equal change in the gap between the total domestic savings of the rest of the world and the total domestic investment of the rest of the world.”

Other factors affecting this transfer are “wage suppression (intentionally as in Germany) or because high volumes of new workers are entering the labor market (as in Asia) and redirect household resources to investment. The result is that productivity increases faster than wages. Increased production outstrips the ability of domestic households to consume. Domestic supply exceeds demand and the coun­try must rely upon foreign consumers to soak up the excess.”

What Tactics Do Surplus Countries Use?

The authors explain that “Export-oriented or investment-oriented countries can utilize policies to reduce consumption, increase pro­duction and export at very competitive prices.”

China:

  • Wage growth is constrained to well be­low the growth in worker productivity
  • Undervalued exchange rate…for much of the past two decades
  • Government subsidizes Chinese manufacturing exporters
  • Financial repression of Chi­nese households
  • Vast amounts of surplus labor that produces more than it consumes.

In essence, the authors state “They export oversupply, deflation and unemployment. The result is excessive reliance on demand from consum­ers in deficit countries.”

Germany

  • Holds down domestic wages
  • German banks provide direct loans and vendor financing to foreign countries to buy German products
  • Impose a 19% consumption tax (VAT) that is rebated to exporters

As a result, “The eco­nomic distress caused by the German-policy-induced cri­sis in other eurozone countries perversely holds down the value of the euro” making Germany’s exports more price competitive in the global marketplace.

SOLUTIONS TO REBALANCE TRADE AND CAPITAL FLOWS

The authors present the following recommended solutions to reduce trade deficits:

  1. Fix currency misalignment, especially the overvalued dollar.
  2. Implement a US consumption tax, such as a goods and services tax (GST), in a revenue neutral and distribution neutral way by completely offset­ting the payroll tax burden.
  3. Adopt a territorial business income tax called sales factor apportionment (SFA)
  4. Consider broadly applied tariffs to counter the unearned ad­vantages of trade surplus countries
  5. Apply selec­tive tariffs to high value or strategic products that the US wants to produce

In conclusion, the authors state: “…the level of US savings and invest­ment cannot and do not ‘cause’ our trade deficit. The true causes are surplus country policies, misaligned exchange rates and global labor oversupply. Persistent trade surplus countries export their oversupply and unemployment to deficit countries characterized by open economies and open financial markets. Policy leaders must become adept at determining the actual causes, how they are transmit­ted through national income identities and how they re­sult in imbalances. Effective policy responses can then be designed to rebalance trade and capital flows, increase US employment and restore our economic growth.”

The paper shows why America’s economy grew when the majority of manufactured goods were Made in America and consumed by US consumers.  The wages paid to the manufacturing workers who produced these products allowed them to save more because they earned more. When the U. S. lost 5.8 million higher paying manufacturing jobs from the 2000 – 2010 because American production was offshored to China and other Asian countries, American workers no longer had any money to save. The overproduction of trade surplus countries resulted in a glut of cheap imported products that further depressed or destroyed some American manufacturing industry sectors. The cheap imported goods that consumers bought became a curse rather than a blessing.

Therefore, the preposterous premise of many macroeconomists that low savings create trade deficits was proven false. It is incomprehensible to me why macroeconomists don’t understand that you can’t save if you don’t have a job or your non-manufacturing job is paying way less than your manufacturing job did. This is why I strongly support the recommended policies of the Coalition for a Prosperous America and urge you to do so also.

Denver’s Project DIY Increases Knowledge of Advanced Manufacturing Careers

September 2nd, 2017

During the first week of summer, June 5 – 9, 2017, the Community College of Denver (CCD) Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) hosted their second week-long camp for high school girls, giving them the opportunity to learn hands on about advanced manufacturing, to include machining, welding, architecture, and engineering graphics/3D printing. The camp was sponsored by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Denver Public School’s CareerConnect, and the Soeurs de Coeur Fund.

CCD’s Advanced Manufacturing Center is a state-of-the-art 33,280-square-foot facility offering degree and certificate programs in machining and welding. CCD also offers continuing education courses for CNC machinists, welding certifications, and wire EDM training allowing for workforce advancement.

When I interviewed Janet Colvin, Manufacturing Pathways Campus Coordinator at the Advanced Manufacturing Center at CCD, she said that they had two one-week summer camps in 2016 for nine girls each week, but this year, they had 28 girls in a one-week camp. This format change allowed girls to participate in paid six-week post camp internships with local companies that are involved with the Denver Public School (DPS) CareerConnect program.

With regard to the selection process, Janet explained that the AMC staff worked with DPS staff Denver Public School to select girls who were interested in the engineering, manufacturing and “Maker” career pathways.

She described how each morning began with the students doing team building activities, campus tours, and other role playing exercises. The following is a summary of the week’s activities as Janet described them:

On Monday, the girls visited an architectural company, RNL Design, where two female architects spoke to the girls about careers in that field and gave them a tour of their design center. The girls completed an architectural drawing using SketchUp, origami building project, and participated in an architecture photo scavenger hunt in downtown Denver.

Tuesday was devoted to engineering, graphic and mechanical design at the CCD Mechanical Engineering Graphics lab. Each girl was able to design and 3D print her own fidget spinner using SolidWorks. Debra Wilcox, the owner of a local 3D printing store, also came to speak to the students.

The girls toured two Advanced Manufacturing companies on Wednesday. At Sundyne, they met mechanical engineers and saw a part being made on a 5-axis CNC machine. The tour also provided lessons in the importance of safety from a female member of the local chapter of the American Society for Safety Engineers. At Eldon James, a women-owned plastic injection molding company, they watched plastic parts being molded.  A member of the Colorado chapter of Women in Manufacturing (WIM) of which Janet is also a member, spoke to the girls about careers in manufacturing.

Thursday was spent at CCD’s Advanced Manufacturing Center doing manual machining using mills and lathes to drill a hole in a CNC-machined medallion. Stacey Bibik, president of Focused on Machining, spoke to the girls about careers. For welding, the girls used both simulators and actual welding equipment under faculty supervision. They had the opportunity to meet and interact with manufacturing college students at the AMC. In the afternoon, they toured a glass recycling company, Clear Intentions.

In the morning of the camp’s last day on Friday, the girls worked with faculty to finish their projects and learned how to create a plasma-cut DIY sign in welding. In the afternoon, there was a graduation ceremony in which the girls had the opportunity to share their experiences. Guests included family members, CCD staff, women from the manufacturing community, and the Denver Public School CareerConnect program.

“The camp was a success because more than 25 professional women who are employed in advanced manufacturing companies participated in CCD’s camp, and 16 Community College of Denver staff, students, and faculty in architecture, machining, fabrication welding and engineering graphics helped design projects, presented, and coached girls,” said Janet Colvin, who coordinated the camp. “I can’t say enough about the companies who participated. One of the key goals of the camp was to provide opportunities where girls could visualize themselves in manufacturing careers, and these business partners helped us achieve that goal.”

Janet stressed that one outcome of the camp was the change in the understanding of manufacturing skills and the potential future employment prospects in the Denver region.

The Project DIY team administered a test before and after the camp, which showed what the girls learned. Here are some of the results of the camp:

  • Pre/post test showed increased knowledge of manufacturing careers and educational pathways; 74% of the participants agreed that the camp increased their motivation to pursue a career in Advanced Manufacturing; 78% of the girls indicated that they could explain the basics of how to make metal parts with a machine, compared to 29% pretest.
  • 100% of the campers indicated that they learned new skills; 91% stated that the camp helped them learn more about their career interests; 100% recommended the camp to others.
  • Machining, welding, and the tours were listed among their favorite activities.
  • The post-test results showed that none of the girls thought Advanced Manufacturing was dirty work (compared to 39% in the pre-test).”
  • Two Project DIY attendees started paid internships in manufacturing with Denver Public Schools CareerConnect after the camp.

“As a result of the camp last summer, one girl changed schools to attend a school that taught welding,” said Janet. “Nine girls came back to complete the camp for the second time this summer. We follow up with all of the girls during the school year. We provide opportunities for the girls to participate in our large MFG DAY event and an international Maker Faire conference.”

CCD’s manufacturing programs offer the ability to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in fabrication welding, machining or engineering graphics, and mechanical design. The college also offers a variety of basic and advanced certificate programs that are stackable —meaning students can earn a certificate and start working right away while continuing on towards more advanced certificates or associate’s degrees in their field.

Janet explained how CCD grew their Advanced Manufacturing Center programs and how they were funded. “We opened the center on July 21, 2015 after receiving a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Labor. Nine community colleges received this grant, called CHAMP. The grant enabled us to set up the center, buy the equipment, and develop the curriculum with the help of the local manufacturing industry. It was a four-year grant, so we have another half year of funding. We are researching other opportunities for continued funding for the center. We are a corporate training center, so we offer training for a fee to local manufacturers.”  Janet said that if anyone wanted more information on ProjectDIY, they could contact her at janet.colvin@ccd.edu.

I shared with Janet that I have written numerous articles about solving the skills gap and attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers and am familiar with the Manufacturing Institute prediction that “Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.” I told her that I certainly hope that CCD will be able to obtain follow up funding for the Advanced Manufacturing Center and be able to continue their summer camps. I believe these types of summer camps are vital for attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers.

I told her that I believe that the manufacturing industry is the foundation of our middle class, and that our country’s national security and prosperity depend in large part on a strong manufacturing industry. This is why I wrote my book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved?  Why We Should and How We Can, and am now working on a sequel titled Rebuild Manufacturing — the Key to American Prosperity, which I hope to have published by the fall.

 

Mira Costa College’s Technology Career Institute Fills Manufacturers’ Training Needs

September 2nd, 2017

For nearly twenty years, the only place to get the training through the community college system to become a machinist was San Diego City College. Now, however, there is a second location for civilians to get training as a machinist in San Diego County at the Technology Career Institute (TCI) of MiraCosta Community College. MiraCosta College is a public California community college serving coastal North San Diego County. The main campus is located in Oceanside, and there is a second campus in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

The reason I mention training for civilians is that from 1923 – 1993, the Navy had a machinist school at the Naval Training Center, San Diego. NTC ceased providing training at the end of 1993 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission of 1993. The machining training was transferred to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. There is still a machine shop at the North Island Naval Air Station on Coronado Island that offers training for entry-level Navy machinists to become journeymen. There is also the Workshops for Warriors, about which I have written previously, that has been training Veterans in machining and other manufacturing skills since 2011.

Last October, I visited the Technology Career Institute (TCI) during San Diego’s Manufacturing Week (associated with the national MFG Day on October 5th). I met Linda Kurokawa, Director of Community Education & Workforce Development, and finally had the opportunity to interview her in depth last week.

My first question was:  When did TCI start and whose idea was it? Linda said, “The Technology Career Institute officially opened in its current location in Carlsbad in March 2015, and it was actually my idea.” She explained, “I started it because I felt that San Diego North County needed a technical training center to provide low cost and accelerated training. We wanted to get young people and Veterans trained for good paying jobs. For about five years, I had been asked by local manufacturers and the local chapter of the National Tooling & Manufacturing Association (NTMA) to start a machinist program. But, I had no money, no instructors, and no equipment.

I decided to see if there was a way it could be done. I worked with the City of Oceanside and asked if they had an empty building. They did since it was during the long-lasting recession. I talked to leaders in the local industry to see if we could raise the funds to get the equipment. The MiraCosta Foundation helped us get donations to buy some of the equipment. One donor even gave $50,000. I worked with Haas Automation®, Inc., and we got some automated machining centers through an ‘Entrustment’ arrangement.”

Continuing, she said, “When we were in the planning stage for TCI, I was advised to make sure the course met the needs of the manufacturers, so we had manufacturers review our curriculum. We also visited training centers all over the country to learn about best practices. We started our machining program in the spring of 2013 at the Oceanside location. The program was very accelerated ? the students went every day, five days a week, for eight hours a day. The NTMA helped me find our first instructor, a woman who was retiring from the Navy and had taught machining skills on board ship to sailors.”

When I asked how they wound up at the current facility in Carlsbad, she responded, “I realized that with the small facility we had, we could only train a few students at a time. I heard about a grant available through the Department of Labor, and I hired a grant writer. We submitted our proposal and won a $2.75 million grant, which allowed us the funds to buy the equipment we needed to double the size of our machining program and also establish an engineering technician program.

We looked for a larger empty building and found one in the city of Carlsbad. We worked with city officials to get a low rent, as we are entirely funded by student fees. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Carlsbad is helping to fill the talent pipeline and helping residents in North County find technical training, and we provide the training in a low cost building.

We moved into our 23,000 sq. ft. building in early 2015 and had the time and space to start night and weekend classes using modules from our daytime accelerated program. We are GI bill approved and funded through Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds and state funds, which are only available about five months of the year before the funds are exhausted. Our fees are high per student (about $6,000), so I wanted to find another grant. The Girard Foundation did help out by funding one semester last year.”

I told Linda that I had seen the press release about the MiraCosta College being one of the recipients of the more than $111 million America’s Promise grants that were awarded on November 17, 2016 by the U.S. Department of Labor “to 23 regional workforce partnerships in 28 states to connect more than 21,000 Americans to education and in-demand jobs.”

The press release stated, “Each four-year grant will support tuition-free education and training that prepares participants for jobs in industries that currently utilize the H-1B temporary visa program to meet industry workforce needs. Grantees will use individual assessments to determine the best strategies to successfully move participants into middle- to high-skilled jobs including accelerated training, longer-term intensive training and up skilling current employees to meet the demands of higher skilled jobs.

Grantees will focus their activities on four key priorities:

  • Increasing opportunities for all Americans through tuition-free training for middle-to high-skilled occupations and industries.
  • Expanding employer involvement in the design and delivery of education and training programs.
  • Utilizing evidence-based sector strategies to increase college completion, employability, employment earnings and outcomes of job seekers.
  • Leveraging additional public, private and foundation resources to scale and sustain proven strategies.

Funded through fees paid by employers to bring foreign workers into the U.S. under the H-1B temporary visa program, America’s Promise grants are intended to raise the technical skill levels of American workers and, over time, help businesses reduce their reliance on temporary visa programs.”

Linda said, “I wrote my own grant this time, and we were the only college in California to receive the grant of 6 million over a period of four years. We are six months into the grant, so we still have 3 1/2 years left. We are sharing some monies with Grossmont Cuyamaca College in east San Diego County and Chaffey College in Riverside. The grant funds have allowed us to eliminate tuition fees and reduce administrative fees down to a modest $375. However, the America’s Promise grant is not a long-term solution. ”

She explained, “Our local manufacturing industry is composed of such small companies that there isn’t enough extra money from these companies to be a sponsor for a machining school. However, we do get small donations of money and donations of metal materials used by the students, as well as donations of some equipment.”

I told her I understood because this is the type of company I represent as a manufacturers’ sales rep – companies that are typically under 25 employees, and I even represent two San Diego North County companies that have less than 15 employees. I mentioned that I had read the sector report on Advanced Manufacturing released in November 2015 by the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP). It stated that” 97 percent of all Advanced Manufacturing businesses are businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Small businesses in this sector also account for 36% of all employees and for a third of all generated annual revenue.”

When I asked what is coming up, she said, “We are excited about launching our apprenticeship program for Machining Technician, CNC machine operators, engineering technicians, electronic assembly, and solar PV in the next few months that have been approved by the State of California Apprenticeship Standards. We will do the pre-training at our facility and monitor the students On the Job Training. We will have an Advisory Board, and already have a couple of companies lined up for the apprenticeships. We are also partnering with Able-Disabled Advocacy for a small portion of their $3.2 million grant for apprenticeships from the Department of Labor that they were awarded in November 2015.

As we concluded our discussion, Linda commented, “One of the benefits of having a big training center is that we will be able to make changes amongst our local manufacturers. Our students are being directed to the companies where they will be able to have a decent paying job.  When companies come to us asking why they can’t get our graduates to go to work for them, we have to explain to them it is because they are not paying a living wage. We are helping them realize that they need to pay higher wages to get and keep better employees.”

I responded that I had heard that San Diego ranks in the top 10 (9th) of most expensive places to live according to Inc. magazine, so it is tough to make it when the wages in San Diego are so much lower than cities that are higher up on the list like New York, Boston, and San Francisco. That is why it is important to get the training and/or education needed to be able to get a higher paying job here, and why it is so important for companies to pay competitive wages. The SDWP report identified advanced manufacturing as one of the priority sectors for job growth, so the Technical Career Institute is an important addition to San Diego County’s training infrastructure.

 

North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site

July 12th, 2017

When I was first invited to North Dakota, the plan was for me to visit the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, but it was about 80 miles away from Fargo, and the Site’s Director was going to be out of town the week of my trip.

My first thought was questioning why North Dakota was selected as one of the six UAS test sites compared to San Diego, which is home to Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Predator unmanned vehicles. I had given a presentation at the San Diego Lindbergh Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in the spring of 2013 while they were collaborating to prepare a proposal for being selected as a test site and was surprised when San Diego was not selected.

I posed this question to my host, Paul Lucy, the first evening we met during my trip, and he supplied part of the answer. It turns out that the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks had a long history of training airline pilots starting in the late 1960s and more recently expanded into training pilots for unmanned vehicles.

In December 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration selected North Dakota to be one of the six test sites, officially known as the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. According to the website, the mission is:  “Collaborate with FAA and industry partners to develop equipment, systems, rules, and procedures to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the NAS without negatively impacting existing general or commercial aviation.”

After I had written my other articles about North Dakota, I set up a phone interview with Nick Flom, Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. He took over the position in 2016 after the founding Executive Director, Robert Becklund, was promoted to Brigadier General and Deputy Adjunct General for the State of North Dakota. However, Nick is not new to the center since he was Becklund’s first hire when the site was established.

Nick provided me the rest of the answer as to why North Dakota was selected. He said, “When they were preparing for the selection process, the entire state went into what we called the “one voice” effort by the Governor, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, and the Office of the Adjunct General of the National Guard, the University of North Dakota, and other organizations in the state. Over $20 million was committed to establishing the UAS Test Site because the FAA test site designation did not include any Federal funding.”

As a point of reference, he told me that whole population of North Dakota is about 775,000, and there are only three Congressional Representatives. The population of the City of San Diego, California where I live is nearly double at 1.4 million.

He explained that “the wide open space of North Dakota was a big consideration, and there is no restricted air space because of population density. The FAA also wanted to diversify the test sites to reflect extremes of temperatures, and North Dakota has some of the highest and lowest temperatures of the U. S.”

The UAS Test Site website sums up the reasons why North Dakota was chosen as follows:

  • “Unequalled history, legacy, and culture of UAS.
  • Immediate access to uncongested airspace statewide and custom tailored to support your research.
  • Diverse climate and open terrain.
  • Unified commitment from North Dakota and congressional leadership, local industry, and key business decision makers.
  • State grant program to match funds from industry-academia research.
  • Strong relationship with Grand Sky, a UAS Business and Aviation Park at Grand Forks Air Force Base.”

When I asked what are his responsibilities, he answered, “We have a couple of different missions to integrate unmanned vehicles into the national air space:  supporting industry as rules are being developed, providing the test environment for application-based processes in agriculture, building inspection, insurance claims, etc., and as an economic driver for agriculture and energy. We look at unmanned vehicles as an opportunity to diversify the state’s economy. Grand Forks has an Air Force Base that has underutilized space, and there was 217 acres in Grand Forks available to establish a UAS business park. The first two tenants in the park are General Atomics and Northrop Grumman. General Atomics has a flight training facility for their sales of vehicles to foreign countries. They were training their pilots to fly in civilian air space. Northrop Grumman flies Global Hawks out of the Grand Forks Air Force Base to support some of their military customers. We help support these capabilities and have the goal of flying beyond the line of sight using the radar system at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Right now, when General Atomics is doing flight training, they have a chase airplane following along. When they can fly beyond line of sight, they won’t have to have a chase aircraft follow along and will be able to execute their mission at a lower cost.”

Nick Flom provided me with more detail about UND’s history of pilot training. He said, “UND started with two airplanes in the 1960s, and then added a helicopter program in 1980. Now, they have 150 airplanes for commercial aviation pilot training. They were the first university to add unmanned vehicle pilot training in 2010, and are now filling the increasing demand for unmanned vehicle pilots. They are the first university to offer a four-year UAS Operations Bachelor of Science degree in the U. S. We have a close relationship with UND, and we can leverage a lot of their research. The President of UND established the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems on the campus. The top leaders understand the importance of unmanned aircraft.”

Nick explained, “UND offers specialized training and curriculum development for UAS crew training and certification that includes human factors, safety management systems. It has an indoor UAS flight laboratory, a Predator Reaper Integrated Networked Computer Environment (PRINCE) simulator, a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS) simulator, as well as a UAS Scan Eagle aircraft and simulators.”

From the University of North Dakota Aerospace home page, I learned that UND specializes in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) research, education and training for private industry, government, UAS researchers and UND graduates. The UAS research collaboration includes:

  • “UND Institute for Unmanned and Autonomous Research (IUAR)
  • John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences
    • Aviation, Atmospheric Sciences, Computer Sciences, Space Studies, Earth Systems Science & Policy
  • UND Aerospace Foundation
  • Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NP UAS TS)
  • UND School of Engineering
    • Unmanned Aircraft Systems Engineering Lab
    • Robotics and Intelligence Systems Lab
  • UND Department of Psychology
    • Northern Plains Center for Behavioral Research”

From all of this information, I could see that it was entirely appropriate for the UAS Test Site to be established in North Dakota near University of North Dakota.

I asked Nick about funding for the UAS Test, and he responded, “The state of North Dakota has appropriated dollars to support the test center. We also contract with government agencies such as NASA and the FAA as well as private companies to do services for which we are paid.”

Before ending our discussion, I asked Nick what were the future plans. He answered, “It depends on the needs of industry. The ability to fly aircraft beyond line of sight is very important, along with the ability to safely perform operations over populated cities. Right now, it is one pilot per aircraft, but it may be possible to have one pilot flying more than one unmanned vehicle.”

In retrospect, I realize that San Diego County would not have been a good choice for a FAA test site as we have too much restricted air restricted air space due to three military airports, San Diego’s Lindberg Field international airport, several small airports spread throughout the county, and the Tijuana, Mexico international airport right across the border. In addition, the population of San Diego County is 3.3 million, and there is only a small variation in temperature from winter to summer. There is no doubt in my mind now that North Dakota was a good choice for being selected as one of the six designated test sites.

North Dakota Manufacturers Ride Innovation to Rapid Growth

June 13th, 2017

On the second day of my visit to Fargo, North Dakota, we went to see Andy Dalman, President/CEO of Advanced Bone Technology, which is developing SimuBone, a product that replicates a human bone. SimuBone is the first product to combine internal and external geometrical precision with mechanical properties adaptable to customer specifications, providing the look, feel, and performance desired in a clean, biohazard free, consumable product.

Andy said, “We are only a three-person team now, working out of our own apartments because we are all still students at North Dakota State University. I was part of a professor/student team that performed the initial research starting in 2012, and I was the student. But, I am in my final semester. We have a patent pending, and the University owns a portion of the patent. The standard for device, therapy, and procedure development is human cadaver or animal testing. My goal is to reduce the need for cadavers in medical research, medical device design, surgical training, public safety testing and more. SimuBone has no biological components and can be manufactured on-demand at a fraction of the cost of alternatives.”

He explained, “We make artificial bone out of composite materials using additive manufacturing (3D printing). We can replicate many different bone parts for use in education. We can produce a model based on a CT scan, which can be interpreted into a 3D model in liquid silicone. We own all of our own equipment and have been buying standard equipment that we modify. We use some modified Foam Labs equipment now because we don’t need to go to very high temperatures.”

I asked, “What other opportunities exist? Andy responded, “We have the opportunity to revolutionize medical training by providing realistic feedback without using a cadaver. Right now, medical training uses plastic models – plastic melts or burns. However, orthopedic and dental are two of the slowest industries for adopting new innovation.”

He added, “Our vision is to determine what it would take to become an in body implant company. We have a feeder grant through the North Dakota Department of Commerce. We are “boot strapping our company and have raised $140,000, but our total investment has been $200,000 to date. Of this amount, $120,000 has come from North Dakota, and another $25,000 has come from a grant from VentureWell as one of their E-team members.”

When I asked how they are marketing, he answered, “We are still figuring that out, but we are reaching out to more innovative dentists and doctors. We are currently marketing for dental applications and allowing students to give feedback. The properties of the material are bio compatible, but we are currently working on out of body applications because it is a long approval process for implant parts. We spoke to orthopedic doctors before we were ready. We do know that our market will be high dollar and low volume.

Our next stop was Appareo, which designs, develops and manufactures innovative electronic and software solutions for original equipment manufacturers, as well as direct-to-market.

We met with COO David Batcheller and Brenda Wyland, Director of Marketing. Appareo has established itself as a recognized leader in the custom design, development and manufacture of innovative electronic and software solutions within the industries of aerospace and agriculture.

Batcheller said, “Appareo was founded in 2003 and moved into the NDSU Technology Incubator when it opened in 2007. We started designing and manufacturing flight data recorders for airplanes and helicopters. Once we employed 50 people, we built our current building near the incubator in the Research Park and moved into it 2010. In 2013, we expanded our manufacturing facility to accommodate a second production line, but we quickly outgrew our space and purchased the adjacent manufacturing facility in 2014.”

He said, “Appareo’s proximity to the NDSU campus played an important role in the company’s growth. We have access to the product of NDSU, which produces some of the finest minds in the nation. ”

He explained. “Through the creative application of cutting-edge technologies, we create complex end-to-end solutions that include both mobile and cloud-based components. We are an accredited FAA Parts Manufacturing facility and are ISO 9001:2008 certified. All of our products are designed, developed, built, and supported in the USA. While our engineering and manufacturing expansion takes place in Fargo, we continue to expand our engineering capabilities with teams based in Tempe, Arizona and Paris, France. Having Appareo offices in Paris and Tempe is critical for building upon our global presence, but we have an unwavering commitment to Fargo as our home base. We’re fortunate to have access to a rare talent pool here; some of the most passionate, brightest high-tech engineering minds in the nation.”

He added, “Contributing to the growth of our agricultural business is a joint venture with AGCO Corporation, the world’s largest OEM dedicated solely to agriculture. Under the joint venture, called Intelligent Ag Solutions, we develop innovative electromechanical devices and systems, as well as technology for advanced machine control systems. We are the only company controlling agricultural products by WIFI. We work with agricultural equipment manufacturers to infuse these technologies into their equipment.

We have developed another new family of products under the Stratus brand to meet the aviation needs to comply with the FAA mandate that requires all aircraft operating in airspace that currently requires a  Mode-C transponder to be equipped with ADS-B Out before 2020. This family of products, a portable receiver, transponder, and TSO charging port, provides real-time weather and traffic information directly to pilots in the cockpit.”

His concluding remarks after we toured the shop floor were: “We have established a trajectory of rapid growth, averaging a compounded annual growth rate of more than 45%.”

Then, we drove 40- miles south of Fargo to Wahpeton to visit two companies, Giant Snacks, Inc. and ComDel. At Giant Snacks, we met with General Manager Lucy Spikermeir. Giant Snacks is a manufacturer of large sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and most recently, pistachios.

Lucy said, “The President, Jay Schuler, took over his father’s business. We came out on our own to be only the second company to specialize in large seeds. We select sunflower farmers with proven excellence for growing large sunflower seeds. We work with each farmer during the growing process and monitor the seeds as they are processed, cleaned, seasoned, and roasted to perfection. We had the roaster custom built for us. We are using more and more robotics and automation in our plant.”

When she gave us a plant tour, I was quite impressed with the size of the tanks for the processing and cleaning of the seeds. They are huge – possibly 10-12 ft. in diameter and 12 – 15 ft. high. Their roaster is nearly as big, and everything from the transfer of seeds from one stage to another as well as the filling of the individual bags is all automated. There were actually only about 15 people working on the shop floor to do everything from processing the incoming seeds to packing the bags into shipping boxes. They design their own boxes so they can be used on their automated line.

Lucy told us, “For many years, Frito Lay was the official snack for all of the pro baseball teams except for Minnesota teams. The players really liked the larger size of our sunflower seeds and the variety of the seasonings. The Minnesota teams must have shared their snacks with other teams because we were called by the new snack manager of the dugouts asking if we could provide seeds for more teams. Now all but one of the major league dugouts uses our seeds.”

She explained, “We get out pumpkin seeds and pistachios from California, but our sunflower seeds are grown locally. In the upper Midwest, we have a 70 percent market share. We are experiencing big growth in Texas and the West, but nationwide, we only have a 15 percent market share. About 80 percent of our sales are in gas stations and convenience stores, but we are getting into more chain stores. We own the land, so we could triple the size of our building. We have 35 employees, but it is still a very seasonal business. January through March is slow for sunflower seeds. This is why we added pistachio seeds to our line. We are growing double digits every year, and we will continue to add new products and new seasonings.”

I really hadn’t eaten sunflower seeds since childhood, so had no idea of the variety of seasonings:  Dill Pickle, Toasted Coconut, BBQ Ranch, Spicy Garlic, etc. Lucy gave me my choice of flavorings for bags of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pistachios, and my family enjoyed them all when I returned home.

Our last stop was ComDel Innovation, where we met with President Jim Albrecht, CFO Bruce Weeda, and General Manager Art Nelson. ComDel Innovation is a precision manufacturer that supports their customer’s commercialization process, integrating all aspects of product development under one roof. ComDel Innovation’s contract manufacturing services include injection molding, assembly operations, precision machining, fabrication of tooling and stamping dies, metal stamping & forming, thread rolling and metal finishing.

Jim said, “Our site was founded in the mid 1970s as a 3M manufacturing location, which was spun off to Imation in 1996. ComDel Innovation was formed when Imation decided to exit manufacturing in 2007. Many of our initial employees worked for 3M and Imation, providing a tremendous nucleus to form a company around. About four years ago, ComDel Innovation created an ESOP as a way to recognize the employees for their contribution to the success of the business. The name ComDel Innovation represents our commitment to deliver innovation and results for our customers. The value offered is in support of customer’s product development needs and providing high quality products. We operate in two buildings totaling 260,000 sq. ft., running 24 hours a day and 360 days a year. ComDel Innovation started with 60 people in 2007 and is currently at 275 employees. Much of our business is the result of working with customers in the U.S. Over the past few years we have seen opportunities to work with business that are reshoring products from other regions of the world.”

I asked if they are a Lean manufacturer, and Jim said. “We had great heritage, as part of 3M and Imation, where lean principles and the continuous improvement tools were taught and implemented throughout the organization. ComDel Innovation carries those tools and practices forward in support of our customers. We also utilize a Total Quality Management Program to manage the quality of materials we purchase. High-end computer-aided engineering software is integrated into our design process for custom assembly equipment, molds, tooling, and fixtures. CAD/CAM software is leveraged for our precision machining and grinding operations.

During the plant tour, I could see why ComDel Innovation is successfully capturing business and why businesses would consider them for reshoring product to the U.S.I saw considerable automation being used in their plastic injection molding, machining, and metal forming departments. ComDel Innovation utilizes assembly cells for low to high volume production. They use robots for removing parts from machines in the injection molding, machining, and metal forming departments. They have a Materials Laboratory to perform complete thermal and mechanical testing for thermoplastic resins and conduct failure/defect analysis. It is apparent they have invested a considerable amount of money in utilizing state-of-the art equipment and systems. This is the path that American manufacturers need to take to be competitive in the global marketplace.

As I ended my trip to North Dakota, I can envision the North Dakota Department of Commerce realizing its goal of expanding its manufacturing base by fostering emerging companies and supporting the growth of existing companies. With its very favorable business climate, North Dakota maybe able to attract companies from other upper Midwest states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

NDSU Research & Technology Park Leads Region in Job Creation

May 31st, 2017

On the first day of my visit to Fargo, North Dakota, I met with Chuck Hoge, Executive Director of the North Dakota State University Research & Technology Park (RTP), which is “dedicated to enhancing the investments in North Dakota State University by the citizens of North Dakota. The development of facilities and research centers conducive to cutting-edge research is also part of the NDSU Research and Technology Park.” The Research Park operates a 50,000 sq. ft. technology incubator, which offers space, facilities, and services to technology-based entrepreneurs and businesses.

Mr. Hoge also serves on the Fargo Moorhead Growth Initiative Fund Board. Prior to the Research Park, he was president of the Ottertail Corporation Manufacturing Platform for six years, and before that, he was president and CEO of Bobcat Corporation.

Mr. Hoge said, “I was on the board of directors of the Park before I became Interim Director in 2013 and the Executive Director in 2016. The Research Park is a 501 (c3) corporation with its own Board of Directors. The Park is home to two NDSU research buildings, the John Deere Electronic Solutions building, and two buildings occupied by Appareo, one of our Incubator graduates.”

Explaining the purpose of the research park, he said, “The Park’s goals mirror those of the State of North Dakota. Our shared mission is to diversify the economy through high-tech STEM jobs, develop the workforce and provide valuable, in-state career opportunities for North Dakota students. In the past, many of NDSU’s 15,000 students were seeking well-paid, high-tech positions out of state, so we made it our goal to create those opportunities for them in-state. The Research Park has created 1,339 direct jobs, of which 52% are held by graduates of North Dakota colleges and universities.”

“In the Incubator, our mission is to help companies succeed faster, which is why we have two of our partner organizations in the Incubator; the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Bank of North Dakota. The SBDC helps startups with anything from business plans to financial modeling and because the Bank of North Dakota is the only state-owned bank in the country, they have many programs aimed at helping startup companies.”

When I asked for information about the founding of the Research Park and incubator, he said, “The Research Park was founded in 1999 and the incubator in 2007. Our funding sources were a combination of private donations, a State Centers of Excellence grant and an EDA grant.”

Hoge, said, “The Bank of North Dakota isn’t the only state entity creating programs for local startups. The Department of Commerce’s Innovate North Dakota program provides up to $32,500 in startup funds to companies in four phases ? $2,500, $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000. In the last couple years, we had over 50 companies in the Fargo area use the program to kick start their companies with a great success rate. The program doesn’t only provide monetary support; the company founders attend entrepreneur training boot camps to network with fellow founders and learn from world-renown entrepreneur, Dr. Jeffery Stamp of Bold Thinking, LLC.”

He told me that the incubator has 12 current incubator clients and has graduated five companies:  Appareo, Fargo 3D Printing, Intelligent InSites, Myriad Mobile, and Pedigree Technologies.

“In addition to programs designed to target local entrepreneurs, we also have a student competition called Innovation Challenge, where $27,000 is awarded to teams of NDSU students with the most innovative ideas. Through three rounds of judging by industry professionals, the students are challenged to pitch their innovations through a written proposal, a trade show scenario and a mock fundraising pitch. We want to inspire students to think about entrepreneurship as a career path and we use innovation as the gateway to entrepreneurship. We had three companies get their start in Innovation Challenge last year and we are hoping for more this year. The program is financially supported by a combination of a University Center EDA grant, state matching funds and contributions from local businesses and organizations.

The Incubator Manager, John Cosgriff, has a background in venture funds, and he assists companies with intellectual property, human resources and raising capital. We have monthly founder meetings where the entrepreneurs advise each other and ‘Lunch and Learn’ events where founders learn from and network with industry experts.”

After I returned home, I was emailed an Economic Impact Study released November, 2016, and a few highlights are:

  • Its companies support an estimated 1,300 indirect jobs in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
  • Its companies employ 489 graduates of NDSU (37% of total RTP employment)
  • Another 202 are graduates of other North Dakota University System schools.
  • 107 student interns are employed by the RTP companies.

While at the Incubator, we met with Chad Ulven and Corey Kratcha, who are the co-founders and CTO and CEO, respectively, of one of the incubator tenants, c2renew, which “uses proprietary biocomposite formulations to design materials, compounds, and parts that satisfy demanding engineering specifications.” With this technology, it is possible to take advantage of lower-cost, renewable resources while meeting, maintaining, and even improving upon the mechanical properties required for a product.

Dr. Ulven said, “I was trained in advanced composite materials when I was in graduate school and at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Army Research Laboratory. Then I became faculty at NDSU researching agricultural products for use as fillers for composites. I wanted to use a variety of materials and built several predictive models based on biomass constituent make up. I met Corey by chance, and we decided to take the technology out of the lab and spin it off to make products. We started working with big companies like Bobcat and John Deere, but the time to market was too long.”

He explained, “We decided to target companies that are focused on new products and started working with EarthKind to develop consumer market products using a PLA based resin along with flax fiber.”

They showed us some of the products where their materials are used:

EarthKind Pouch Pod – All natural repellent holder that uses flax sourced from North Dakota farms as the filler to the resin.

Bogobrush – An eco-friendly toothbrush where materials, production, and shipping all take place in North Dakota and the surrounding area. The company gives a toothbrush away for everyone bought.

Corey said, “In a partnership with 3DomFuel, we have developed a collection of bio-based 3D printing filaments called c2composites. Our expertise in biocomposite formulation matched with the expertise 3DomFuel has in producing filament means that anyone with a 3D printer capable of printing PLA can print with the following custom filaments:

Wound Up – a coffee plant fiber waste filled filament

Buzzed – made from byproducts of beer production

Entwined – made from industrial hemp

LandFilament – made from upcycled municipal solid waste

We have created many different biocomposites for various customers, but we had never created anything that was 100 percent done for us. So we thought about ways to take one of our favorite things, coffee, and use it in a new and innovative design. We developed the c2cup by creating a new biocomposite formulation that is a hybridization of a bio-based resin and coffee plant fiber. We then used this biocomposite to make 3D printer filament and printed the first coffee cup. The biomass resources we use are taking the waste off the hands of the producer to be utilized in a rapidly renewable manner. We use carbon rich byproducts that also have high lignin content that improves a material’s UVA resistance. We look at how we can meet performance specifications by finding a solution that is bio-based, renewable, and sustainable.

We have a 9,500 sq. ft. production facility in a nearby industrial space. We have at least two interns from NDSU at any one time that we meet through the Incubator and other meetings.

We now have experience working with a wide variety of thermoplastics including: PP, PE, PLA, ABS, ABS/PC, and PA, and a wide variety of agricultural inputs are possible as fillers:

  • flax fiber
  • wood flour
  • hemp fiber
  • sunflower hull
  • dried distiller grains with solubles
  • soybean hull
  • oat hull
  • sugar beet pulp

Our formulations are more environmentally responsible since the petroleum feedstock can be replaced with agricultural byproducts which would otherwise be left to decay in the soil or be sent to the landfill.”

Chad told me about the collaboration they are doing with NDSU researchers to spin out c2sensor, as a result of the “development of a micro-sensor made from biocomposites and non-bioaccumulating metals. He said, “The Sensing Earth Environment Directly (SEED) Sensor can be placed during planting for in-situ measurement of soil conditions, as opposed to current methods which often require a combination of direct (i.e. soil sampling) and indirect measurements (i.e. remote sensing).

Biodegradable materials used in SEED Sensors allow them to degrade after use where planted without adding toxins to the soil. Since wireless communication with the sensor is based on passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, batteries are not required for operation. This technology has been tested in lab and in field trials.”

Chad said, “The SEED Sensors provide:

  • Salinity levels for allowing adjustments as needed
  • Nutrient levels for variable rate fertilizer applications
  • Moisture levels to have more focused irrigation
  • pH levels to more proactively manage inputs
  • Real time soil analysis for end of year fieldwork
  • couple with aerial mapping via UAVs or satellite imager”

At the end of our visit, Chad said, “We also provide engineering services to help design, analyze, and develop plastic and plastic-composite parts for virtually any application. While we specialize in utilizing natural and recycled materials in place of virgin polymers, we also produce solutions with more tradition materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber.”

If c2renew is an example of the cutting edge technology of the startup companies in the Incubator, North Dakota will certainly be able to reach its goal of accelerating the growth of startup and emerging companies to expand their manufacturing base and keep college graduates from leaving the state. The Park’s website describes the success to date: “The NDSU Research & Technology (RTP) Park and its companies have seen tremendous growth over the last five years according to a survey conducted by EMSI in 2010 and repeated by the RTP in 2015. As of December 2015, there were 1,105 jobs at companies located in the park and 234 jobs at RTP incubator graduate companies located around the Fargo-Moorhead area. This is a 50 percent increase over the number of jobs at the end of 2010.”

It would have been great to be able to visit with more Incubator tenants, but we had other more established companies to visit the rest of the day that I will discuss in my next article.