CPA Releases Competitiveness Strategy for the United StatesCPA Releases Competitiveness Strategy for the United States

November 20th, 2015

For several years, organizations and elected representatives in Congress have proposed developing a national manufacturing strategy. For example, the Information Technology& Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report, “The Case for a National Manufacturing Strategy,” in April 2011 and the Alliance for American Manufacturing has repeatedly put forward a “Plan to Save Manufacturing,” calling for a national manufacturing strategy to reverse the decline in U.S. manufacturing and the good jobs that come with it. Bills sponsored by Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) have even passed the House of Representatives, but have died in the Senate.

On November 11th, the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) released “A Competitiveness Strategy for the United States – America at a Crossroads,” which addresses other sectors of our economy in addition to manufacturing.

“America needs to start winning again,” said Michael Stumo, CEO of CPA. “That is why the mission of the Competitiveness Strategy is to:

‘Win the international competition for good jobs, sustained real economic growth and prosperity with a national strategy to counter foreign mercantilism, balance trade and grow strong domestic supply chains.’”

“Across the USA, localities and states employ plans to attract jobs,” said Brian O’Shaughnessy, CPA Chief Co-Chair and Chairman of Revere Copper Products. “Other countries have sophisticated national strategies to acquire industries and bring good paying jobs to their countries. The USA has no comprehensive national strategy for domestic production and good paying jobs to guide trade negotiators and administration officials.”

CPA’s Competitiveness Strategy argues that:

The United States is losing an economic competition against other nations whose mercantilist strategies are destroying our manufacturing jobs, critical industries, our standard of living, our national security, the security of our food supply, and our children’s futures.

The threat to the U. S. economy and national security is grave. Other trading nations are using comprehensive strategies to import jobs across all economic sectors, but are particularly focused on strategically significant technologies and industries. American companies in these sectors face not only wide-ranging mercantilist practices and non-tariff trade barriers such as currency manipulation, tariffs and subsidies, but also much more sophisticated and specific strategies aimed at identifying, acquiring, or otherwise controlling critical technologies.

CPA’s strategy holds out the promise that the U. S. is in control of its own destiny and can re-assert itself as a great manufacturing and producing nation with a rising standard of living for all. We can develop and implement a comprehensive strategy that retains and reinforces our leadership in innovation, locates investment and production in the United States, and raises employment by creating good paying jobs.

The ultimate mission of the strategy is to win the international competition for good jobs and sustained economic growth. The mission recognizes we are in competition with other countries. The Competitiveness Strategy includes nineteen action steps focused upon three interrelated goals:

  1. Identifying and countering foreign mercantilist strategies that grow their economies at the expense of other countries through achieving a persistent trade surplus
  2. Balancing the national trade deficit
  3. Growing domestic supply chains

“All three goals are interrelated and must be pursued together,” continued Stumo. “The President rightfully created the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to grow domestic supply chains, but the effort cannot succeed unless we combat powerful foreign tactics to take those industries away. Further, a new effort to counter foreign mercantilism and trade cheating is essential, but must have the goal of balancing trade to be fully effective.”
“Additionally, balancing trade is essential, but merely exporting raw materials is insufficient. American must grow and retain a diverse array of industries that add value to our products and create good jobs, with special attention paid to advanced and critical industry supply chains,” Stumo concluded.

CPA’s competitiveness strategy shown below is succinct, yet comprehensive:

“Identify and counter foreign mercantilist strategies that grow their economies at the expense of other countries through achieving a persistent trade surplus

  1. End both currency exchange rate imbalances and the accumulation of excessive US dollar holdings by non-US public and private entities.
  2. Impose offsetting tariffs to neutralize foreign government subsidies to industries and supply chains that compete with ours.
  3. Counter foreign government policies that force offshoring by conditioning access to their markets on transfers of technology, research facilities and/or production to their countries, as well as compliance with export performance and domestic content requirements, while their exporters have access to US markets without these conditions.
  4. Ensure that foreign greenfield investments in the US and acquisitions of existing US companies provide a clear “net benefit” to the US with special scrutiny in cases of state influenced foreign entities.
  5. Protect US food security from foreign government tactics to seize markets.

Balance trade

  1. Offset cumulative trade deficits of recent decades and excessive accumulations of dollar reserves through sustained trade surplus to ultimately achieve a long term overall trade balance.
  2. Insure that the composition of trade includes a substantial trade surplus in high value added and advanced manufactured goods.
  3. Make the US workforce more cost competitive by promoting fair pay, rising living standards and safe working conditions for workers everywhere.
  4. Reduce US producers’ trade disadvantage through tax reform which finances the reduction of payroll taxes and health insurance costs with a border adjustable consumption tax in a revenue and distribution neutral manner.
  5. Lower corporate tax rates and end corporate inversion and profit shifting tax avoidance by taxing the income of unitary business groups, whether domestic or foreign, based upon proportion of global sales in the US.

Grow Domestic Supply Chains

  1. Preserve and develop domestic manufacturing and agricultural supply chains to maximize value added production in the US.
  2. Develop, build and maintain a world-class land, water, air, communications and energy infrastructure.
  3. Safeguard our military strength and national security by insuring that critical technologies, weapons & IT components are developed and manufactured in America by American controlled companies.
  4. Develop, commercialize and retain strategic and economically significant advanced technology and grow their manufacturing supply chains in the US.
  5. Increase public support for, and incentives for private investment in, basic and applied research, infra-technologies and new product and process technologies.
  6. Continually raise the competitiveness of American workers by improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education available at all levels, systematically enhance lifelong learning for existing workers, and fostering a national system of apprenticeship and paid internships through collaborative public-private endeavors that are connected to actual opportunities in the labor market.
  7. Raise the competitiveness of small and medium sized domestic enterprises by increasing long-term private sector financing, the sharing of research on common issues and the diffusion of new technologies and production methods.
  8. Preserve our right to adopt and enforce domestic policies that insure the quality of our food and goods, and protect the health, safety and general welfare of our citizens without restrictions from international trade agreements.
  9. Ensure that domestic manufacturing and agriculture benefit fully from an expanded supply of low cost US produced energy”

Anyone involved in efforts to revitalize American manufacturing already has a bookshelf full of books, studies, and reports containing recommendations on a national manufacturing strategy. My book, Can American Manufacturing Be Saved? Why we should and how we can has a chapter on “How Can We Save American Manufacturing?” that contains a summary of the recommendations of many organizations as well as my own recommendations, which I incorporate into articles and presentations whenever possible. As chair of the California chapter of CPA, I plan to incorporate this competitiveness strategy into future articles and presentations whenever possible.

The brilliance of CPA’s strategy is that it is not limited to manufacturing and is not a “to do list” of actions to take. The Competitiveness Strategy will work best when pursued as a whole. The three objectives are interrelated because, for example, we cannot balance trade without growing domestic supply chains to produce more, and add more value in the U. S. We cannot grow domestic supply chains unless we neutralize foreign mercantilism (trade cheating) that offshores otherwise competitive industries that we started and developed in the U. S. We cannot address foreign mercantilism without the guidance of a balanced trade objective.

Businesses must have a strategic plan to start and grow. This strategic plan guides the business with regard to product development, finance, marketing, production, procurement, etc. Many other countries have an economic strategy to grow their economy. A country’s strategy guides their economic, fiscal, trade, innovation, finance and monetary policy, so that they all work together to enhance their competitiveness as a nation.

The United States has no comprehensive strategy ? just a hodgepodge of laws and rules. Trade negotiators have had no strategic plan to guide them, and neither do the administrative agencies relevant to manufacturing, agricultural, and use of natural resources. The United States needs a comprehensive competitiveness strategy that clearly expresses exactly what we want to achieve for our country… not for an industry or special interest… but our country as a whole.

We do not have to “keep reinventing the wheel.” It is time for our leaders to “stop fiddling while Rome burns” and show some real leadership. Action, not lip service is what we need now!

Leadership is Key to Becoming a Lean Enterprise

November 9th, 2015

I finished off my week in Florida by attending the 2015 Lean Accounting Summit on October 8-9th Jacksonville, Florida, produced by Lean Frontiers, headed up by founder and President, Jim Huntzinger. It was two days of information-packed presentations and workshops that included case studies showing Lean principles in action. I was honored to be invited back to give a presentation on “How to Return Manufacturing to American Using Total Cost of Analysis.” I attended all five of the keynote presentations during the two-day summit and as many of the different breakout sessions as I could between the keynotes.

The First keynote, “Lead with Respect, was given by Michael Bole?, author, speaker and associate research at Telecom Aristech. He first challenged the audience with questions, such as “What is the meaning of leadership? How do you get people to follow you? What do they know how to do? “He stated, “Lean has a focus ? reduce waste and do more with less. The world is moved by ideas and words. To lead people, you need to take into account their experience, skills, and opinions to help them develop their autonomy. You need to create experiences for them so you can see at what level they are. Then, he asked, “How do you teach? You show them by means of problem based learning: Express the problem, look for the cause, and confirm the corrective measure.” He then outlined his seven-step model of Lean leadership.

The first breakout session I attended was “The Lean Management System: an Engine for Continuous Improvement” by Dean Locher, a four-time author and faculty member of the Lean Enterprise Institute. Dean said, “Lean creates a culture of continuous improvement you can actually see a culture.” He asked, “What is it to be a Lean enterprise? It is an organization where all members continually strive to do better and to develop a culture of continuous improvement. What is needed? Purpose, direction, CI methodologies and tools, processes, and engagement.”

He briefly described the methodologies and tools: Hoshin Kanri (policy deployment process), value steam mapping, Gemba walks, daily management process, 5S, Kaizen events, 7-step DMAIC, Andon (visual management), Kata, Leader Standard Work, and Voice of the Customer.

The next breakout I attended was “First Steps to Lean Accounting Statement” by Jean Cunningham, President of Cunningham Consulting, co-author of Real Numbers, and one of the original through leaders for the Lean Accounting summit. She showed how to restructure financial statements to provide a Lean accounting statement presentation in addition to the traditional presentation of standard cost when a company hasn’t gotten rid of their standards cost system yet. She said the key characteristics are: “(1) separate variable from non variable costs, (2) separate direct from shared between value streams, (3) separate accounting transactions for labor and overhead, (4) use easy to understand language, and (5) organize by groupings meaningful to the business.” She emphasized that “money is language of business so it is really important to have an understandable language. Operations and finance have to come together.”

After lunch, there were three mini-keynotes. Bill Waddell was the first mini keynote speaker of the day discussing “People Process and Prosperity.” Bill is the author of Simple Excellence, co-author of Rebirth of American Industry, and most recently “The Heart and Soul of Manufacturing.” His three main points were: (1) You can’t manage people by the numbers, (2) There is an inherent right to life, and (3) Lean can enable you to be far-sighted as managers.”

Sam McPherson was the second mini-keynote speaker discussing “Leadership as Special Forces.” Sam is an internationally recognized Lean Transformation Leader and co-founder of the Lean Leadership Academy with Art Smalley. He was recalled to military service after 9/11 and became the Director of Special Operations Plans for the Elite U. S. Army Special Forces (the Green Berets) during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He said, “A Green Beret is a symbol of excellence, and badge of courage, and act if distinction in the fight for freedom. Why would Lean leadership take a look at a Green Beret? Because every Green Beret is a leader. Special Forces are adaptable, capable, courageous, persistent, responsible, professional, integrated team player, and willing to lead.” He encouraged Lean leaders to develop the same qualities.

The third mini-keynote was Dean Locher discussing “Behavior Driving Culture.” He said that what leaders do is to develop culture. “Leaders need to help people understand that change isn’t like driving off a cliff. Teaching is not about you; it is about what your students learned. Leaders need to provide a target destination; there can be many different paths to the target. Leaders can teach PDCA and show how problem solving can be fun. When you use the Socratic method of teaching, you don’t provide the answer. Your students find the answer for themselves.”

In the afternoon, I attended the breakout session in which Eldad Coppens, CFO, and Anna Berkner, Director of Finance/Controller of QFix their company’s story about converting to Lean Accounting. QFix is a world leader in radiotherapy patient positioning and immobilization products. They are vertically integrated as an innovator, manufacturer, distributor, and marketer and have 100 employees. They have an extensive product portfolio with over 6,000 SKUs. They aim to be a one-stop solution so they distribute what they don’t make.

Eldad said, “You can’t do Lean accounting without doing Lean operations. We did Value Stream Mapping and a spaghetti diagram, and then reorganized by value streams: composites and devices, thermoplastics, resale of other people’s products. The value streams are supported by marketing, sales, and customer service, and technical support. The challenges were: high SKU/BOM, Box Score Analysis, new product development, profitability by profit, target costing, and tracking and reducing inventory. The benefits of Lean accounting have been: financial x-ray of company, timely reporting, consistency with GAAP, insight into economics, insight into traditional accounting, internal diffusion of financial results, and a baseline for incentive programs and the QFix Performance Bonus for employees.

At the concluding session of the day, the 2015 Lean Enterprise Institute Excellence in Lean Accounting Student and Professor Awards were announced. The student winner was Amy Shaw (Puckett), Western Washington University, and the professor award went to Patti Hart Timm, Walden University. The students and professors receiving LEAF scholarships to attend the summit were: Amal Said, Professor, University of Toledo, Jessica Jakubowski, Student, University of Toledo, Hassan HassabElnaby, Professor – Editor, University of Toledo, Joel Tuoriniemi, Professor, Michigan Technological University, Jeffrey Hines, Student, Michigan Technological University, Joanne Pencak, Professor, University of Vermont, and John Mangione, Student, University of Vermont.

On day two, the morning keynote speaker was Jamie Flinchbaugh, co-founder of the Lean Leaning Center, and co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, who spoke on “Leading Lean.” He said, “Leading is a verb whereas leadership is a noun…What is the adoption rate of Lean? Good intentions are not a good solution to the problem…An operating system is how everything fits together: (1) process, (2) skills and tools, (3) evaluation, and (4) behaviors. All four need to work together and be consistent. An operating system may be good but doesn’t work because of behaviors. You need to be relentless on the path, but need to be patient with others who just got on the path. Evaluation starts with a hypothesis of if I do ____, I expect to see____. It includes Total Shareholder Return (TSR), strategy, culture, and behaviors.” He gave suggestions of how to hook a CFO into adopting Lean accounting: “Start with why you are doing it. What is your purpose? Define your own personal reason for the Lean journey.” He also recommended that CFOs talk to other CFOs.

I then attended the first of two sessions put on by executives of Nicholson Manufacturing Ltd., which was formed after Nicholson Debarker acquired Madill Forestry Equipment. Nicholson is family-owned, 67-year old British Columbia based manufacturer of machines and parts for the logging and forest products industries. The first was “Value Stream Accounting at Nicholson” presented by Ian Scott Kerr, Director of Finance, and James Bowden and Gaetan Desmairis, Value Stream Managers. The second was the “Lean Management Journey at Nicholson,” presented by Doug Jeffrey, President, and Rhonda Morrison, Continuous Improvement Manager.

They began their Lean journey in 2004 starting with 5S and Green Belt training to change the culture to continuous improvement. After acquiring a new ERP system in 2006 and evaluating suppliers, they had additional Lean training by Bill Waddell in 2009. They implemented more Lean methodologies and tools and trained small teams of employees using the PDCA cycle for teaching.

They brought Bill back in 2013 to begin their transformation to Lean accounting and produced their first value stream statements in January 2014. They learned to break down the silos and organized by value streams. They have three value streams: Nicholson products, McGill products, and aftermarket products, and each value stream has a manager. Their production employees are unionized ? fabricators, welders, and machinists. Every employee received education in value stream leadership and has been cross-trained in the value streams. They use a new Lean Employee Development Tool by Bill Waddell instead of performance reviews.

Rhonda said, “The challenges were: bad data, complex ERP system, down turn during recession for their product lines, staff losses by people who didn’t want to do Lean, building common goals with the unions, and the fact that many people had new responsibilities. The gains will come faster than expected, so need to have a plan to handle the extra capacity. You will get slower before you get faster. You will have to make tough decisions. Accept that some people may not want to change.” She added, “Dividing into value streams was easier than expected, and our on-time deliveries have improved from 65% to over 90%.”

The final keynote session featured Bill Waddell and Jim Huntzinger discussing “The Lean Economy: The Importance of Tying Micro and Macro.” One of the most important truths Bill said was, “Individual people are the source of all productivity.” He described how companies following the Lean business model are the micro part of the economy, and in turn, they are part of the macro economy of a city, state, or country. He said, “Reducing waste equals increased capital (both human and capital.) He commented that “retail stores are going b the wayside to Amazon to direct buying from manufacturers…you need to eliminate the non value added. If you don’t know where you are adding value and your customer doesn’t know where they are adding value, then you are doomed.” In the closing Q & A, I asked why more companies on the Lean journey don’t realize that offshoring is the opposite of Lean, creating waste, and Jim Huntzinger said that presenting that truth is one of the objectives of the Lean Accounting Summit.

This is why it is important to me to be invited to speak at the Lean Accounting Summit. As I wrote in my book, I am certain that becoming a Lean Enterprise is one of the most important actions American manufacturers can take to “save themselves” and one of the keys to rebuilding American manufacturing to make America great again.



Traditional Industries Generate High-tech Spinoffs in Southwest Florida

November 3rd, 2015

My last article featured the stories of two companies that I visited, so this article will feature the four other companies I toured during my brief visit to Lee County earlier this month as the guest of the Lee County Economic Development Office.

Shaw Development is a family-owned company with the third generation now involved and specializes in the design, development and manufacturing of custom fluid management solutions, including Diesel Emissions Fluid (DEF) systems (headers, reservoirs, caps, adapters, strainers, etc.) for heavy-duty vehicles and machinery, such as trucks, buses, construction, mining, military vehicles, as well as agriculture and forestry equipment, power generation, and locomotive equipment.

Stephen Schock, Director of Manufacturing, gave us a plant tour first, and then we met with Lane Morlock, Chief Operations Officer. Lane told me that Frank Shaw founded the first Shaw company, Shaw Metal Products, in 1944 Buffalo, New York as a machine shop to support the military and developing aerospace market.

Shaw Aero Devices, Inc. was founded in 1954 to add engineering to their core capability and develop products with proprietary intellectual property. Frank’s son, Jim Shaw, headed up this company, and it became the industry standard for a variety of fuel, oil, water, and waste components and systems. Shaw Aero Devices moved Naples, Florida (Collier County) in the early 1980s and moved to Fort Myers in Lee County 1993. The company relocated back to Naples in 2001 after it outgrew its Lee County location.

Lane, said, “Shaw Development, LLC was formed in 1959 to transfer Shaw Aero Devices technology to ground vehicle markets particularly the lift and turn technology for fuel caps. We moved into our current 50,000 sq. ft. plant in Bonita Springs in 2008. Shaw entered into the DEF system business early on, and business has grown dramatically in the last 6 to 7 years.”

When I asked how much they outsource, he said, “We have a fair amount of capability in-house ? machining, stamping, forming, welding, paint, assembly and test capabilities. In 2009, we vertically integrated plastic injection molding by acquiring Gulf Coast Mold to bring back our molding from China. We bought a robot for welding that saves us a great deal of time. We buy some machining and sensors outside. In 2014, we added 17,000 sq. ft. to our production space in the plant and expanded our injection molding operation by 6,500 sq. ft. We added 75 employees over the past 3 years and our revenue has been increasing +25% YOY in this time period. We are now up to about 200 employees, so we are the second largest manufacturer in the region.”

In response to my question about their challenges, Lane said, “Our biggest challenge is to get the right talent. We work with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and more recently, we have engaged with the University of Miami to find the right talent. We work with local schools and the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association to develop curriculum and manufacturing industry awareness to the local area. We are heavily involved with STEM and bring in students as interns and offer them the opportunity to work on private projects. One of our welders took a job with the local technical college to train welders, and this has provided us with an opportunity to work with this program and provide them with industry experience.”

With regard to my inquiry about being a lean company, he said that he had spent two years at NUMMI (Toyota Joint Venture) gaining an in-depth understanding of the Toyota Production System prior to spending seven years in a leadership role at General Motor’s corporate Lean Office. He added, “We have a full time Lean black belt to train our employees. We have gone from 43-day material turnaround to an average of 27 days in the past two years. Our model for business planning is Hoshin Kanri, and we have a five-year business plan and an annual business plan tied into it. Our on-time delivery is 98.8% year to date, and our quality PPM has improved by 60% in the past two years. We use a two-bin Kan Ban system and one-piece flow for our assembly line operations. Our employees are cross trained, and we review our manufacturing cell metrics at weekly meetings.”

With this emphasis on lean and the fact Shaw Development is both ISO 9000 and 14000 Certified, I could see why the company has been recognized as the Manufacturer of the Year for the State of Florida and Southwest Regional Manufacturer of the year.

My next visit was to American Traction Systems (ATS), a privately owned company formed in 2008 by Bonne Posma, as an affiliate of his other company, Saminco, Inc. ATS specializes in the design and manufacturing of electric propulsion systems for on and off road electric vehicles such the Ford Fusion, fuel cell buses, Hybrid trucks and buses, streetcars, trolleys, trams, GenSet Locomotives, Hybrid Diesel-Electric marine vessels, airline ground support vehicles. ATS has manufactured electric traction drives for Fuel Cell Buses designed by Ballard and Georgetown University, Hybrid-Electric systems for Allison Electric Drive division of General Motors as well as over 3,500 AC/DC and DC/DC controllers for underground mining vehicles. All design and manufacturing is performed in the Fort Myers, Florida facility with the capacity to deliver production of several hundred units per month.

General Manager Lem Vongpathoum led the plant tour at ATS and then we met with Mr. Bonne Posma and his niece, Cari Posma Wilcox, Vice President of Saminco, Inc. In a phone interview with Cari after returning home to clarify some details, she told me that Bonne was born in Indonesia of Dutch parents just as WWII erupted in Asia and spent the war years in a prison camp with his parents. His family returned to the Netherlands after the war and then immigrated to Canada. Mr. Posma founded Saftronics in 1968 in Johannesburg, South Africa and then opened a second facility in Ontario, Canada in 1976, which is still in operation as Saft Drives. He opened a Saftronics plant in Buffalo, New York in 1986, which he moved to Ft. Myers, Florida a year later. He left Saftronics and founded Saminco in 1992. Saftronics was sold to Emerson in 2005. After founding American Traction Systems in 2008, he opened a Saminco service office in China in 2009 and a service office in South Africa in 2011. He also opened an ATS facility in South Africa in 2013. Bonne’s energy and excitement about his companies was that of someone half his age when he showed us around Saminco and gave us a demonstration of some of the mining equipment at their testing yard.

Bonne clarified the difference between the three companies he has founded, saying “Saftronics made variable speed drives. Saminco makes solid-state electric vehicle traction controllers powered by batteries, diesel-hybrid, fuel cells and power systems, mainly for underground mining equipment. American Traction Systems makes electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems for a variety of vehicles and equipment. I am the sole owner of both Saminco and ATS, and we have about 120 employees at the Ft. Myers Saminco and ATS plants. We also have a repair facility in Huntington, West Virginia that has 35-40 employees.”

Bonne explained, “We are competing with major corporations like Siemens, ABB and GE. We have to be more nimble to compete successfully. We competed against these companies for a Navy contract for a propulsion system for the USNS Waters operated by the Military Sealift Command and won the contract. We are getting into solar and working on a new diesel electric propulsion system for a Load Haul Dump (LHD) vehicle that is like a large Bobcat. We are also working on a new induction motor for ‘Mag lev’ trains.”

When I asked him about his suppliers, he said, “We use all American suppliers for what we can’t do in-house. We buy machining and sheet metal fabrication and use a contract manufacturer for our PCBs. We do full power testing in our lab.”

He added, “American workers are some of the highest paid workers in the world. There are three things that have destroyed American manufacturing: litigation, regulation, and taxes. If we want to level the playing field, we need to get rid of these three things.”

On my last morning in southwest Florida, we visited JRL Ventures, Inc. dba Marine Concepts headquartered in Cape Coral, Florida. The facility contains 42,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing and office space, equipped with state of the art CNC robotic machining centers and other technologies. Marine Concepts opened its doors in 1976 under the leadership of Augusto “Kiko” Villalon to be able to go from design to production of boats. Marine industry veterans, J. Robert and Karen Long, purchased Marine Concepts in 1994. As a leading manufacturer for nearly 40 years, Marine Concepts is now the largest manufacturer of tooling and molds for the marine industry in the United States. They make CNC plugs, composite molds (open and closed silicone/LRTM), CNC molds, CNC parts, limited production composite parts, scale models, and CNC cold mold kits. In 2012 Marine Concepts opened a facility in Sarasota, Florida with over 260,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing and office space. The two plants provide 300,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space and seven 3 – 5-axis CNC milling machines.

Mac Spencer, CFO, gave us the plant tour where we watched a boat mold being machined by their very large machining robot. We met with Dan Locke, Design Manager and Senior Designer, who has been designing boats since the 1980s, using Unigraphix software that provides more free style for designing surfaces than Solid Works. Mr. Spencer said that normally their business was 80% marine vs. 20% non-marine, but during the recession, it was reverse. They diversified into making composite figures and structures for resort parks, such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags. They also make composite parts for trams and electric buses. Design work for other marine companies is also a growing part of their business. We briefly met with President Matt Chambers before departing.

My last visit was to Nor-Tech Boats where we met with Cindy Trombley, Director of Administration. She said the company was founded in 1980 by Trond Schon, who had moved with his family from Norway to Cape Coral, Florida. Nor-Tech manufactures high performance powerboats using advanced technologies, unique manufacturing processes, and stylish designs. The main manufacturing facility in North Fort Myers encompasses over 45,000 sq. ft. complete with a 20’ x 60’ downdraft paint booth. Within the main building a state of the art rig shop and in house upholstery departments are climate controlled year round to insure a clean and work friendly environment. The in-house engine development and production division is housed in a secondary facility along with the service department and a rigging facility. We could see three boats in various stages of production in the main plant, but we did not have time to go visit the secondary facility.

Cindy said they currently have 107 employees, but survived the recession by dropping down to only 35 and going into debt. She said they can make boats up to 80 ft. long, and most of the larger sized boats go overseas or to Canada. They make every style of powerboats except for “T-tops.” Cindy said, “Our biggest challenge outside of heat and humidity in Florida is finding skilled labor. There are no vocational schools teaching how to build boats. We have low turnover, but an aging workforce. One of the advantages of Florida is that there are no corporate or personal income taxes.”

A common thread for most of these companies is the concern about finding the right workers now and in the future. As I have discussed in past articles, this is a nationwide problem, not just in southwest Florida. During discussions with the management of the Lee County Economic Development office and members of the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association at breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings during my visit, I shared what is being done to address this problem in other parts of the country and by organizations such as SME’s PRIME schools, ToolingU, and Project Lead the Way that I have written about in previous articles. The more manufacturers and trade associations that get involved in solving this problem, the more successful we will be in attracting and developing the next generation of manufacturing workers.

Southwest Florida Attracts Manufacturers, not just Retirees

November 3rd, 2015

During my recent trip to southwest Florida as the guest of the Lee County Economic Development agency, I learned that in recent years, there has been an increasing number of business owners that have been regularly vacationing in the area who have decided to either move their business or set up a business where they like to play.

Lee County is on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida about 125 miles south of Tampa and about 50 miles north of the Everglades National Park. There are five incorporated cities in the country: Cape Coral, Ft. Myers, Bonita Springs, Ft. Myers Beach, and Sanibel. The county population grew 63% from 1994 to 2014, but 55% live in the unincorporated area.

My tour host, Shane Farnsworth, Manager of Business Development for the Lee County EDO, told me that Cape Coral was a planned “bedroom” community, but many people never built homes on the lots. So, Cape Coral offers the greatest area of growth for industrial development through the purchase and combining of these parcels into industrial sites. Ft. Myers is the oldest of the five cities, so there is very little undeveloped land and new industrial sites will occur through redevelopment. During my visit, I met with executives of several manufacturing companies in three of five and the city of Naples to the south in Collier County (most of Collier County is taken up by the Big Cypress National Park.).

My first interview was with Bill Daubmann, founder and Senior V. P. of KDD, Inc. dba My Shower Door and a member of D3 Glass LLC. Bill originally had  established a closet organization business in Springfield, MA in 1986 and obtained a license agreement with Mr. Shower Door in 1989. After visiting the Lee County region for several years on vacation, he decided to move to Naples in 2001 and opened a showroom in 2003. His son, Doug, moved also and joined the company. He took the Fast track entrepreneur course by the Kaufman Foundation with one son in 2007 to “hone” their management skills, and took it again in 2011 with his other son.

Bill said, “It was a tough struggle from 2008 – 2010 due to the Great Recession, as southwest Florida was “ground zero” for the decline in the new home building market. We survived by mostly doing home remodeling.”

In 2011, they were informed that their Mr. Shower Door license would not be renewed for 2012, so they explored setting up their own manufacturing plant to make the tempered and glazed needed for shower doors. After analyzing how much glass they were buying out of the state and the problems they had with breakage and defective glass, they set up D3 Glass LLC in 2012 when new home building started coming back in a building they had bought during the recession. Bill’s oldest son, Keith, became President of KDD, Inc. dba My Shower Door. Bill said that the ovens for tempering the glass cost one million and everything else cost another million. They had to buy two custom-outfitted trucks to deliver the glass to their showrooms and customers.

Since Florida requires a license for the glass and glazing business, Bill and his sons took the test and got their licenses. Bill said, “We hired a consultant to do a “SWOT” analysis for our shower door business to make sure that our business model worked in all parts of the country. We wrote a business plan and did a beta test site. We are now selling our business model to others and running an academy on how to run a shower door business. We have four affiliate stores: Oklahoma City, OK, Grand Rapids, MI, St. Paul, MN, and York, PA. We also sell the specialized hardware for shower doors to our affiliates and other shower door companies.”

In the last two years, they expanded from just doing shower doors into other markets for tempered glass and recently finished providing all of the tempered glass for the new Hertz headquarters building that will open next month. Bill said, “We went from 22 to 50 employees in 18 months and are now up to 64 employees. We just made the INC magazine list of 5,000 companies at #2,085 and will be going to the big event next month.”

After I told him that I am part of the Reshoring Initiative to promote bringing back manufacturing to America, he said, “We were buying aluminum extrusions from China, but just switched to a vendor in the United States.”

In answer to my question about the advantages of being located in the region, he responded, “It is easy to deal with the people in the local government agencies, there is good transportation available on I-75 and Rt. 41, the new airport has flights going to our markets, and there are good local colleges for preparing the future workers we will need.”

My second interview was with Brian Rist, President and CEO of Smart Companies, of which Storm Smart is the largest subsidiary. Storm Smart is Florida’s largest manufacturer & installer of hurricane protection products and is the ninth largest manufacturer across all industries in Lee County. Brian is the inventor of the innovative Storm Catcher Wind Abatement Screens. He also moved from the northeast to southwest Florida to run his business. Brian said, “I started out with a couple of partners in a general contracting business and wound up as the sole owner. The first three years were a struggle to find a niche. The building codes were changing and I became the expert in the new codes, even teaching architects. After Hurricane Ambrose came in 1994, I tried to find a fabric that would replace plywood for covering windows. We talked with people in energy management and got everyone’s opinion. I founded Storm Smart in 1996 to manufacture fabric window protection. We became known as who to talk to about window protection. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. We did a CD on what businesses could do for emergency planning because 83% of businesses that have a disaster never recover.”

Brian explained that the building codes changed in Florida for developing sites in 1997 requiring window protection to be part of building a home. In 2001 new codes came out and insurance regulations changed also. Everyone has to have separate hurricane insurance. Insurance companies offered special rates for homes that had protection, and the State of Florida offered a rebate program.

“We started making polypropylene window protection by hand cutting the material, but we needed to ramp up to higher production. Getting a sales tax credit helped us to be able to buy a laser cutting machine in 2013, and it eliminated the bottleneck in our business helping us develop new products.”

They work with the biggest companies in the world that use fabric for hurricane protection. While their products protect homes from hurricanes, they also reduce energy costs. Brian said, “You can build a business based on a known market of saving energy and not just protection from hurricanes. Impact-rated windows are a fast growing part of our business. Most new homes come with impact rated windows.”

He added, “The building codes changed again and they are much more about retaining heat rather than saving heat. International codes are also changing. We watch what percentage of our business is with builders. We went to Cancun and set up small operation during recession in Mexico. We are currently doing work in Los Cabos, Mexico also. We sell to Caribbean countries like Bermuda, Jamaica, and wherever else there are resorts.

We have experienced fast growth and have been picked by Inc. magazine four times as one of the 5,000 fastest growing companies. We went from 26 employees to 100 employees after Hurricane Charlie. We went from five to six jobs per month to about 100 jobs per month.

We looked at all of their jobs and decided to really go back into the customer service business to be a sustainable business. We started to invest in our people and getting to know who they were. We had to make sure they were doing things right. We have to ‘walk the talk.'”

After we discussed some of the articles I have written on developing and recruiting the next generation of manufacturing workers and my involvement with the Coalition for a Prosperous America, he added, “‘ Walking the talk” also involves working with students and getting involved with the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association [for which he is in the current Vice-President.] He said, “We won the manufacturer of the year for the local region last year. We work with five different academies related to construction. Only about 20% of kids go to college and only about 20% of them graduate from college. We had a tour of our plant during Manufacturing Day and had about 13-14 students come on the tour. Florida is too reliant on tourism and construction. Manufacturing creates more different opportunities for good-paying jobs. Our Governor was at our plant three weeks ago, and he understands manufacturing. By partnering with government and education, we can be more effective in growing manufacturing in Florida. In order to grow, we have to develop the next generation of manufacturing workers. Team building, time management, and ethics are the same regardless of the industry.”

In answer to my inquiry about Lean training, he said, “We have been very involved with lean manufacturing and are working with the Florida Manufacturing Program. We are going through a program for an ERP system in order to continue to grow. We have a plan to develop the company over the next three years. Part of it will involve having licensed dealers.”

The outlook for business in Lee County is very good according to the Lee County Business Climate Survey Report, Third Quarter, 2015 prepared by The Regional Economic Research Institute, Lutgert College of Business, Florida Gulf Coast University, released on August 27th, 2015. The key findings were:

  • 74 percent of executives stated that the current economic conditions have improved over last year
  • 66 percent of the executives stated that the current economic conditions for their industry have improved over last year
  • 67 percent of executives expect economic conditions for their industry to improve over the next year
  • 68 percent of companies expect to increase investment next year and none expect to reduce investment levels
  • 61 percent of executives reported increasing employment over the last year, while four percent reported reducing employment
  • 57 percent of executives expect to increase employment at their companies during the next year

While manufacturing represents only 2% of the economy of Lee County today, the staff of the Lee County Development agency is working with the economic development offices of the five cities and members of the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association to grow the manufacturing industry and expand that percentage. Their work will be aided by the fact that Florida ranks 5th in the 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index with a score of 6.91. The corporate income tax rate is only 5.5% for C corporations only. There is no inventory tax for businesses, and there is no personal income tax. There are nine universities and colleges, and the two largest, Florida South Western State College and Florida Gulf Coast University have a combined enrollment of over 30,000 students. There is good technical training at the two-year community college level as well as at the Fort Myers Institute of Technology, Cape Coral Institute of Technology, and at the ITT Technical Institute. The Ft. Myers airport (RSW) is served by 15 air carriers offering nonstop flights to 46 destinations, most of which are east of the Mississippi.

The stories of these two companies are good examples of innovation to develop new products, becoming a lean company, creating a new business model, and expanding into new markets. These are some of the recommendations I made in the chapter “What manufacturers can do to save themselves” in my book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved? Why we should and how we can.

Having no corporate and personal income taxes and providing a friendly business climate are ideas I discuss in the chapter on what government can do to save manufacturing in my book. My next article will tell the stories of other companies I visited in Florida.

SME Education Foundation Works to Grow Next Generation of Manufacturing Workers

September 30th, 2015

The 2015 ManpowerGroup annual Talent Shortage Survey reveals that 32% or 1 in 3 of “U.S. employers report difficulties filling job vacancies due to talent shortages,” down 8% from 40% in 2014. This 10th survey shows that “skilled trades remain the hardest to fill for six consecutive years.” Among U.S. employers, 48% acknowledge that talent shortages have a medium to high impact on their business, but few are putting talent strategies in place to address the problem…despite the negative impact on their business.”

One reason for the shortage is that public misperceptions of advanced manufacturing has led young people entering the workforce to choose other career paths. In an article titled, “What the shortage in skilled manufacturing workers means to a hungry industry” of the e-newsletter Smart Business, Kika Young, human resources director at Forest City Gear Co. Inc. of Rockford, IL, said “Most people in Gen Y out of high school don’t think of manufacturing as a career or as a good option. They don’t think of it as glamorous; they think of it as dark and dingy and dirty and aren’t interested in going into that.”

If we want to attract today’s youth to manufacturing careers, we need to change their perceptions about what the manufacturing industry is like and show them what great career opportunities exist in the industry. We need to expose them to the variety of career opportunities in manufacturing and help them realize that manufacturing careers pay 25-50 percent higher than non-manufacturing jobs, so they will choose to be part of modern manufacturing. The spotlight needs to be on the high-tech environment of modern manufacturing. New technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and advanced analytics underscore the reality that a career in manufacturing does not entail working in a dirty, dangerous place that requires no skills.

SME Education Foundation is working to change the image of manufacturing and prepare youth for careers in advanced manufacturing through its Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME®) initiative.

PRIME® is a collaborative model that engages regional manufacturers, local schools and other community representatives to establish a tailored advanced manufacturing / STEM education that provides high school students with relevant, hands-on knowledge and skills. PRIME® gives manufacturers a voice in education, builds student awareness of manufacturing career pathways, and provides youth with 21st century manufacturing skills, which can lead to industry credentials. Students graduating from the PRIME® program are often capable of successfully transitioning to the manufacturing workforce immediately upon high school graduation.

Established in 2011, PRIME® has grown to 36 schools in 21 states, impacting more than 6,500 students annually with 70 percent of graduating PRIME® seniors pursuing a post secondary education in manufacturing or engineering. SME Education Foundation has also supported 144 PRIME® students with nearly $400,000 in scholarship awards.

In my home state of California, there are six PRIME® schools: Esperanza High School, Hawthorne High School, John Glenn High School, Petaluma High School, Rocklin High School, and San Pasqual High School.

SME Education Foundation is working to expand its network by working with corporate partners to sponsor the development of new PRIME® sites at high schools throughout the country. “PRIME® is forging a path to revitalize manufacturing education and fostering the development of a highly skilled, STEM-capable workforce,” said Brian Glowiak, director of the SME Education Foundation. “Through the support of visionary corporate partners, like Alcoa and Honda, we are helping to create the next generation of manufacturing engineers and technologists and championing one of the most critical elements for innovation success.”

SME Education Foundation and PRIME® provide a winning solution for students by offering them opportunities to:

  • Collaborate with local SME Chapters and industry partners to co-host events
  • Engage with other students and educators in the PRIME® network to share their experiences and creative lesson plans as well as participate in student competitions
  • Participate in Advanced Manufacturing/STEM camps with younger students and other extracurricular activities
  • Receive post-secondary educational scholarships
  • Engage with SME members who can share their technical knowledge and experience by mentoring PRIME students, offering internships and providing job-shadowing opportunities.
  • Attend student summits at SME’s national manufacturing events. These summits allow students, parents and educators to interact face-to-face with representatives of companies that provide revolutionary technologies and business-changing innovations.
  • Implement training materials and curriculum from Tooling U-SME, the industry leader in manufacturing learning and development.
  • Receive SME’s Advanced Manufacturing Media, which produces digital and print publications that cover relevant manufacturing news, technology and advances.

PRIME® Success Story:

In 2014, Denbigh Aviation Academy in Newport News, Virginia was selected for PRIME® designation through the SME Education Foundation.Students at the Aviation Academy, are building a full-sized, 750-pound, two-seat aircraft. At the culmination of the project, they are planning to take this student-built aircraft to the skies! The Aviation Academy is a four-year, high school program in Newport News Public Schools, located behind the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport. Learners focus on careers in aviation, electronics, engineering and technology. “We are able to get real world experience and it ties in with aerospace manufacturing /engineering. It’s a good thing because the fields are lucrative and growing,” says Laura Prox, a junior at the Denbigh Aviation Academy.

As one of the first sites on the East Coast to partner with Eagle’s Nest Projects (an organization that donates the plane kits to schools to build these aircrafts), students can immerse themselves into the manufacturing and aviation sector. An elite team of 30 students have completed the fuselage and tail sections. These students demonstrate an authentic example of manufacturing brought to life in the classroom. Students are assigned roles from management to labor based upon their coursework and experience. They are learning and employing fastening systems and procedures that can be found at any aviation assembly facility. Using the materials, reading the blueprints and drawings, and understanding principles in assembly outline some of the talents students gain. Throughout the process, some of the “soft skills” also emerge such as teamwork, communication and problem solving.”

Manufacturing Day 2015 will occur on Friday, Oct. 2, and throughout the month of October, SME will be supporting Manufacturing Day through chapter activities and events, the SME Education Foundation’s PRIME® school network and Tooling U-SME. Here’s what PRIME® schools are doing for Manufacturing Day!

PRIME® exposes our youth to the modern manufacturing environment and changes the image of manufacturing to one that is “cool” and full of exciting career opportunities for our youth. This will enable us to recruit the next generation of manufacturing workers to fill the skilled worker positions now going unfilled.

The question is: Will you be the corporate executive who joins the PRIME® program to sponsor more schools to expand the program to hundreds of schools in all 50 states? If so, go to this link. Or, will you be the corporate executive that will have to admit to his children or grandchildren that you are partly responsible for reducing their career opportunities for good paying jobs in manufacturing because you offshored manufacturing and/or imported foreign workers to replace American workers at your U. S. plant?

Why are there so few states with “Bottle Bill” laws?

September 22nd, 2015

American consumers have increasingly favored recycling to benefit their community and the environment. Recycling is defined as the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. One of the best ways to promote recycling is with “bottle bills,” which is another way of saying “container deposit laws.” A container deposit law requires a minimum refundable deposit on beer, soft drink and other beverage containers in order to ensure a high rate of recycling or reuse. After learning that only ten states have container deposit laws, I decided to investigate why this is the case.

I am sure that everyone would agree with the following benefits of recycling cited by the Environment Protection Agency’s website:

  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators;
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals;
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials;
  • Saves energy;
  • Helps create new well-paying jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States.

The three steps to recycling materials listed on the website seem simple:

  • Step 1: Collection and Processing – Recyclables are collected by curbside collection, drop-off centers, and deposit or refund programs. Next, “recyclables are sent to a recovery facility to be sorted, cleaned, and processed into materials that can be used in manufacturing. Recyclables are bought and sold just like raw materials would be, and prices go up and down depending on supply and demand in the United States and the world.”

The one hitch in these steps is that it takes enough recyclable material to make it profitable to manufacture products out of recycled material or make new products that utilize recycled content, such as carpeting, park benches, and even asphalt. The question is do we have enough recycled material to make the clear water bottles that could be endlessly recycled?

When you think of all of the trillions of clear water bottles purchased in the U. S. by American consumers, you would think that there would be more than enough material to keep making water bottles out of recycled material without having to use any virgin material. However, since there are only 10 states with bottle deposit laws, this is not the case. These states are: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Oregon was the first state to successfully pass a bottle deposit law in 1971, Vermont was the second state to pass a bottle deposit law in 1973, and Hawaii was the most recent in 2002. Most of the other states passed laws in the 1980s. Delaware passed a law in 1982, but it was repealed in 2009. The deposit is 5 cents for every state except Michigan, where it is 10 cents.

Tennessee proposed a bottle bill in 2009 and 2010 that failed to pass even though ten county commissions voted to endorse the bill. It would have required a five-cent deposit on beverage containers. The recycling rate in Tennessee is 10 percent, which was projected to increase to 80 percent with a bottle bill. Discarded bottles and cans are the primary contributor to litter in Tennessee.

Texas attempted to introduce a bottle bill (SB 635) into legislation in 2011, but lost by a vote of 101 to 40. It would have required a ten-cent deposit on beverage containers under 24 fl. oz. and 15 cents for larger containers. Recycling promoters filled a new bill in 2013, SB 645, but it was left pending in subcommittee on 4/22/2013. Two new bills have been introduced in Texas in the 2015 legislative cycle ? HB 2425 Regarding Refundable Deposits and SB 1450 Calling for Refundable Deposits.

Why is there so much opposition to bottle bills?

According to the Institute, “Bottle bill opponents include beverage container manufacturers, soft drink bottlers, beer, wine and liquor distributors and retail grocers. As ‘new age’ drink containers are targeted for inclusion in existing bottle bills, juice, sports drink and bottled water manufacturers have joined the anti-bottle bill forces…”

Major opponents of bottle bills are:

  • Anheuser Busch
  • The Coca Cola Company
  • Pepsi-Cola Company
  • Can Manufacturers Institute
  • Distilled Spirits Council of the United States
  • Food Marketing Institute
  • International Bottled Water Association
  • National Beer Wholesalers Association
  • Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • National Food Processors Association
  • National Grocers Association
  • American Beverage Association

The Container Recycling Institute claims that these companies and organizations have spent huge sums of money “to defeat ballot initiatives over the past twenty years, with industry opponents outspending proponents by as much as 30:1.”

During the last three years the three leading container trade groups (Aluminum Association, the Glass Packaging Institute, and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers) have changed their position and now support bottle bills because of the success of existing bottle bills.

What are the reasons given for opposing bottle bills? The Container Recycling Institute lists the following reasons on a page titled Myths and Facts:

  • Deposits aren’t needed where there is curbside recycling.
  • Deposit systems target only a small part of the waste stream (less than 3% of municipal solid waste (MSW) by weight).
  • Deposit systems address a small portion of litter: 7 to 25 percent.
  • Deposit return is inconvenient (consumers prefer home curbside bins).
  • Deposits rob curbside programs of valuable aluminum can revenue.
  • Deposits are more expensive than other recycling programs.
  • Deposit returns are expensive for distributors.
  • Deposits are a tax” and increase the price of beverages.

I live in California, which is one of the bottle bill states, and we also have curbside recycling in the city of San Diego. I prefer to separate out the containers for which I paid a deposit and take them to a recycling center to get my deposit money back. In the major cities of California, stores do not take the bottles back. You can take them to recycling centers conveniently located in the parking lots of neighborhood shopping centers or to municipal waste management landfills where privately owned recycling centers are located.

I do not understand how anyone could consider a deposit fee a “tax” because it is refunded. None of the sales taxes I pay are ever refunded to me. Also, under container deposit systems, the cost of recycling is borne by producers and consumers, not by government and taxpayers as is the case for curbside recycling programs.

The Container Recycling Institute says that beverage containers comprise 40-60% of litter. Because of the bottle deposit law in California, you rarely see any bottles as litter. Homeless and poor people pick up all of the bottles that could be litter on streets and sidewalks to turn them in to get the deposit money. States that have bottle bills “showed reductions in beverage container litter ranging from 69% to 84%.”

In January 2015, a report was released, “Waste and Opportunity 2015: Environmental Progress and Challenges in Food, Beverage, and Consumer Goods Packaging” by Conrad B. MacKerron, Senior Vice President of As You Sow, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing environmental and social corporate responsibility. The Project Editor was Darby Hoover, Senior Resource Specialist of The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists.

The report revealed that “With an overall recycling rate of 34.5 percent and an estimated packaging recycling rate of 51 percent, the United States lags behind many other developed countries.” With regard to beverage recycling, the report states, “Major beverage companies like Coca-Cola, Nestlé Waters NA, and PepsiCo are taking positive individual actions to boost bottle and can recycling. Still, most brands support neither a container deposit nor an EPR (extended producer responsibility) scheme to boost recycling—two proven ways to increase container recycling.”

With regard to beverage containers, PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) is the material most frequently used and thus is “currently the most recycled plastic material, yet only 30 percent of PET bottles are recycled. But since 94 percent of the U.S. population has access to PET collection, there is much more PET that could be recovered. “High demand and limited supply for recycled PET (rPET) demonstrates the economic potential of increasing recycling rates if materials can be recovered without significant contamination.” However, “U.S. reclaimers reported average yield losses of 31 percent for PET bales from curbside programs and 25 percent for bales from deposit programs” due to contamination by other recycled materials.” The report recommended expanding the use of PET to other types of packaging such as clamshell food containers to increase the supply of rPET.

One good reason to expand container deposit laws is stated in the report: “Recycling also helps create new, well-paying jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries. The firms that process metals, paper, electronics, rubber, plastic, glass, and textiles represent 137,000 direct jobs and $32 billion in revenue. When suppliers and indirect impact are factored in, the industry supports nearly half a million jobs and generates a total of $90 billion annually in economic activity. If we increased the U.S. national recycling rate to 75 percent by 2030, we would generate nearly 1.5 million new jobs.”

Other key findings of the report were:

  • Up to 50% of the U.S. population may lack convenient access to curbside recycling for commonly recycled materials like bottles, cans, and newspapers.
  • Companies are required to pay for collection of materials in Europe, Canada, and other markets, but fight accepting that responsibility in the U.S.
  • Many companies also fight container deposit legislation – the most successfully demonstrated method to increase recycling rates, yet only operating in 10 states.

I agree with one of the recommendations of the report: “Increasing our ability to recycle packaging successfully will lead us closer to developing a circular economy in which raw materials are captured and processed to re-enter commerce many times over, thus increasing resource efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our reliance on nonrenewable natural resources.”

Since clear PET plastic bottles can be recycled nearly endlessly, one of the best ways to accomplish this is to pass bottle bills in more states in the U. S., so we can increase the domestic supply of recycled PET. We also need to pass legislation to keep recyclers from selling the PET containers to China so that American companies like Plastic Technologies Inc. won’t have to buy recycled PET from other countries.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Molds Success of Plastic Technologies Inc.

September 22nd, 2015

During my tour of manufacturing plants in the Toledo, Ohio region last month, I decided to write an article about Plastic Technologies, Inc because of the interesting story about Dr. Tom Brady who founded the company in 1985. When I interviewed Dr. Brady last week, he told me that when he worked for Owens-Illinois, Inc. from 1971-1984, he had become the VP and Director of Technology and had led the development of the first PET (polyester) plastic soft drink container and had directed the technical activities for all of O-I’s plastic product lines.

When I asked him what led him to start PTI, he said, “In late 1985, I happened upon a unique opportunity to start the company. Several of the major Coca-Cola bottlers were seeking to expand their already successful PET bottle manufacturing operations and to develop new and innovative PET plastic soft drink packaging products. The four largest Coca-Cola regional bottling cooperatives agreed to jointly sponsor and fund product development and engineering projects, and they approached me to manage those project development efforts. Not having an interest in just changing jobs, I made a counter offer to those Coca-Cola cooperatives to establish a separate independent company for the purpose of managing their projects. When they agreed, I left O-I to start Plastic Technologies, Inc. and signed long term contracts with all four Coca-Cola cooperatives.”

Dr. Brady also said, “Because of my industry experience, I was quickly able to identify additional customers that were non-competitive to Coca-Cola and I hired a small, but highly experienced professional staff, to do the technical development for the Coca-Cola Cooperatives and for other customers. Because of our professionalism and experience, we were quickly able to establish a reputation in the industry as a high quality PET R&D and technical support company. As our technical staff expanded and our revenue grew at compound annual rates of 35%, we moved to a larger facility in 1989 and set up both analytical testing and process development laboratories, with the capability of prototyping and testing PET containers and preforms. We founded Phoenix Technologies International LLC in 1991 in nearby Bowling Green, Ohio and have since then expanded the plant three times to produce recycled PET using proprietary technology.

Because PET had become the material of choice for new packaging during the 80’s and 90’s, we were able to quickly expand our customer base and to become involved in developing many different products and businesses, including health care packaging, plastic recycling, specialty compound development, and even leisure products. Our experiences outside the PET packaging field provided a basis for us to hire additional technical professionals to staff our laboratories and establish a reputation in the plastics industry as a substantial technical development company.

Since those early days, we have developed relationships with most major manufacturers, resin suppliers, machinery builders, brand owners, and converters. Today, we even supply preforms for blow molding to customers needing specific quantities or unusual designs. We have also learned how to work effectively with competitive customers andwe have become recognized for our excellence in protecting customer intellectual property and confidentiality. Today, our customers are involved in every step of the PET value chain from raw material supply through end of life recyclability.”

I asked if they were affected by the Recession of 2008-2009 and if so, what did they do to survive it? Dr. Brady said, “The recession did have a big effect on PTI’s business, but the recession, per se, was not the most significant issue. Rather, the recession just added to the challenge of changes that were already happening in the world at large. As is true for almost every business today, one of the challenges for PTI today is to redefine its business going forward. Dr. Brady said that what PTI has done successfully for 30 years is no longer as different and special as it once was. The challenge for PTI, and for every business today, is to find the “gaps” in the markets of the future that can be filled by employing the experience and knowledge that has been developed over many years.

Mr. Brady did say that “we had to do some things differently during the recession. We had to get more professional about sales because there are many more companies selling the same technologies and services now. The biggest impediment to our continued growth is that there are more competitors, so that staying ahead of the competition is a bigger challenge.” When he started the company, he was working with the top levels of management at his major customers. Now, he says that business is being done at a different level. More business is handled today by professional purchasing agents, so you have to be more price competitive than in the past. They also went through formal training in Lean, which has been beneficial to their manufacturing businesses, because, he says, “You have to be more efficient to be competitive in every aspect of your business today.” However, the Lean initiative didn’t affect PTI’s testing lab. Rather, becoming ISO certified has had more of an impact on that lab.”

Since I had seen a whole wall of patents PTI had been granted on display at their headquarters, I asked if the change in patent law under the America Invents Act of 2011 affected his company. He replied, “We have to take the steps to be “first to file” instead of being able to rely on being “first to invent.” We have to file more provisional patents than we ever had to in the past, which adds another big burden and costs that we didn’t have previously. Our number of patent applications has shrunk now that we can’t depend on being first to invent. Anything that adds bureaucratic activity becomes a burden on business.”

After my visit, I had emailed Dr. Brady information on the proposed patent legislation (H.R. 9 and S.1137) and asked if these bills would have an effect on his company.” He responded, “You don’t have time to fight everything that comes up. You try to work around it. In fact, we find that patents are less valuable than they used to be. It is more important to be first to the market and to be innovative. Our growth hasn’t been about becoming a bigger and bigger company. We started Phoenix Technologies and our other companies so that those teams could be more entrepreneurial themselves. Our growth model has been to expand by creating our own “Intrapreneurs,” by offering those intrapreneurs ownership and by growing as a family of companies. Our PTI family of companies now includes two manufacturing companies, two technical development and engineering service companies and three joint venture companies that license technology or sell specialty services to the packaging industry (Preform Technologies LLC, Phoenix Technologies International LLC, PTI Europe SARL, PETWall LLC, Minus 9 Plastics LLC and The Packaging Conference). Today, many PTI employees are owners and are in a position where they can truly feel it’s their company. Any employee can be considered by the management team for an opportunity to buy an equity stake, and 40% of PTI employees are owners today. We have more than 200 employees worldwide and many of the products you buy every day are sold in plastic containers designed by one of our companies.”

During my visit, I was astonished to learn that there are only 11 states that have bottle deposit programs to encourage recycling ? California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. In these states, about 80% of bottles are recycled, while in non bottle-deposit states only about 20% of bottles are recycled. I asked why more states didn’t have bottle deposit programs, and Dr. Brady responded that many major companies oppose the programs because they say it would add to their costs. Dr. Brady explained, “You have to have an infrastructure in place to get enough material to make recycling profitable. However, he emphasized that everybody, even those who think deposit systems cost more money, would win if there was more recycled material, because the costs for virgin material would go down. He also pointed out that a lot of the recycled material goes offshore to China and other Asian countries because it is cheaper to ship the material in the empty containers that are going back to Asia than it is to ship the material to Ohio. We are a big enough company that we can buy recycled material from other sources in Mexico, Canada, South America, and even Iceland, and, we also benefit because we put it back into the highest value end-use products ? food and beverage containers. Dr. Brady pointed out that when China and India get to our standard of living, there isn’t going to be enough of all raw materials to go around. That means that reusing all materials will eventually become necessary and that recycling will become a significant industry, rather than to remain a “nice thing to do.”

During our interview, I learned that Dr. Brady had taken a leave of absence from the company in 2009 to become the Interim Dean of Education at the University of Toledo. He said, “At first, I was judged by the faculty and staff at the college to be a poor choice as the interim dean. However, I actually had the advantage of being completely dependent upon the expertise and experience of the faculty and staff at the college. I made a personal commitment to get to know each and every person in the college and to understand the personal and professional backgrounds of everyone. As a result, we were able to work together to craft a mission and strategy for the future and to create a climate of success going forward.”

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Dr. Brady’s grandfather founded the University of Toledo’s college of secondary education. His mother, an aunt, his two sisters and both grandmothers all taught school. He doesn’t just “talk the talk”; he “walks the talk.” When he was interviewed by Plastic News prior to being inducted into the Society of Plastics Industry Hall of Fame in, 2012, he said, “My goal is to help anywhere I can to make education better. If we don’t educate our kids in this country, we’re lost. Our only competitive advantage is being able to be entrepreneurs. The rest of the world can catch up in everything else, so we better figure it out. And, there are not going to be enough unskilled jobs in the future, so you better educate people so they can go out and create their own jobs.”

Dr. Brady emphasized the importance of education and training in the whole economic development equation by saying, “In a sense, I think I could reduce the entire economic development issue to just this one issue. That is, if we spent every one of our economic development dollars on building a world class K-16 education and training system, I truly believe that economic development would happen naturally as a by-product of that initiative.” He reiterated a point that he had made to the mayor of Toledo a few years earlier:

  • Higher per-capita income is a by-product of higher-paying jobs
  • Higher-paying jobs are a by-product of knowledge-based commerce
  • Knowledge-based commerce is a by-product of education and talent
  • Talent and education are by-products of a superior K-16 school system, substantive trade and skill development institutions, and a superior teaching and research university.

I completely concur and made similar points in my book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved? Why we should and how we can, as well as the several blog articles I have written about workforce development and attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers. Manufacturing jobs are the foundation of our economy and the middle class. We must strengthen our manufacturing industry to create more jobs if we want our children and grandchildren to have an opportunity to live the “American Dream.”

San Diego’s Invention Contest Showcases Innovative Products and Technology

August 29th, 2015

The San Diego Inventor’s Forum held its 9th annual invention contest on Saturday, August 15th at Coleman College’s Kearny Mesa campus to see which product would come out on top as the best technology or consumer product invention of 2015. San Diego is no stranger to innovation. In 2013, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) ranked San Diego as the second most innovative city in the world and the most innovative in America. This contest kept the innovation momentum rolling.

Adrian Pelkus, President of the San Diego Inventors Forum, said “Over two dozen patented or pending inventors entered the contest this year. Further proof how inventive San Diego is! All the inventors that exhibited were super creative and ready for market. Thanks to all that entered and congratulations to the winners. I wish all of you the best on your ventures, and we look forward to seeing your product on the store shelves soon!” Ten finalists were selected to compete for best consumer product and five finalists were selected for the technology category.

The event was lively this year after the second inventor, Shane Cox, demonstrated that questions posed to the inventors by members of the 150-person audience could be broadcast over the PA system as the QBall was tossed from person to person. Cash prizes were awarded to the first and second place winners in each category. There was a tie for second place in the consumer product category. The winners were:

First Place

  • Consumer Product: REMEDI™ – a new antibiotic that Dissolves Airborne Diseases
  • Technology: Blue Marble, Inc. – Individually app-controlled solar sprinkler heads, drip valves, and sensors (don’t need batteries)

Second Place

  • Consumer Product:
    • QBall: a throw-able ball containing a wireless microphone designed to encourage audience participation by voice amplification
    • IR SkullCap – a high performance, smart-foam insert for hats or beanies to reduce impact to the head
  • Technology: Intruder IDTM Camera System – a solar-powered, easily-installed, self-contained wireless system including a motion sensor, noise maker, and camera to deter and catch intruders bent on burglary, property damage, or graffiti “tagging”

The Solamatic ® Solar Technology in Window Treatments came in as a close third in the Technology category. The Solamatic ® automatically opens and closes blinds with sensors that detect daylight and weather. Inventor Marin Caspa, President and CEO of VSI Technologies Inc., demonstrated how the technology works by darkening the auditorium while simulating the rising sun with a spotlight. As the “sun” rose and set, the device opened and closed window blinds in sync with the cycles of day and night. For further information, contact Martin Caspar at

David Horrigan of Horrigan Labs is celebrating his fourth win at San Diego Inventors Forum annual contest for his REMEDI™. Mr. Horrigan discovered this formula when he was developing biocides for nail fungus as part of his CoolToes™ treatment for onychomycosis. Another formula made the cut for that treatment, but this product was very effective for other things. “The patent pending formula is made from two natural oils extracted from food. The vapors from this formula dissolve the wall of fungus, mold, bacteria and viruses. Because it is the vapors that do the work, the antibiotic can attack pathogens in places where other antibiotics can’t go like the sinus cavities and lungs. A client was looking for a fungicide suitable for removing mold on fruit,” stated Mr. Horrigan. “I tried it on strawberries and grapes, and it proved effective at controlling those molds. I then tried it on numerous other pathogens, and surprise, it controls the microbes that cause eight of the 12 diseases on the president’s list of Fast Track diseases, or diseases that are out of control or cause great financial hardship to the country ? diseases like howlie rot, ringworm, tuberculosis, influenza, and antibiotic resistant or flesh-eating diseases.”

REMEDI™ will be going to market as a consumer home fungicide available through direct response and through dealers. Horrigan Labs is seeking licensors for distribution for the consumer medical applications under the name Neomycosin™. These products will be manufactured in the USA. For further information, contact Horrigan Labs at

The big winner for 2015’s technology invention was Blue Marble, Inc., with its intelligent irrigation system. Founder of Blue Marble, Paul F. Sabadin, showed off the system of app and weather-connected individual sprinkler heads, drip valves, and soil sensors. California’s drought accentuates the value of this impressive technology, which works directly with existing irrigation systems to enable precise control, turning on only individual heads and valves that indicate a need while leaving other heads and valves off, conserving water, saving money, and lessening irrigation’s environmental impact. The devices are solar-powered and were touted as being 100% battery-free and therefore expected to last for decades on agricultural farms or in residential gardens. “We envision a day where Blue Marble will deliver the perfect drink to every plant on every farm, every apple in every orchard, and every blade of grass on every lawn,” said Sabadin. The company has launched a crowdfunding campaign for the technology at

Mr. Sabadin had referred to his product as an “Internet of Things” startup and when I asked why, he said, the “Internet of Things” is perceived by many to be the next social/industrial movement with respect to the integration of the Internet into the fabric of global society. As differentiated from the social Internet, or “Internet of People” where peoples’ data, communications, affairs, and accounts have been subsumed into the global Internet, the “Internet of Things” does the same for physical devices, essentially making devices first class citizens of this global network, having implicit identity, voice, and interacting with other physical “things,” in addition to being controlled by and exchanging data with the Internet of people. For me, being an “Internet of Things” developer means that my systems and devices leverage connections to the Internet to optimize benefit for the end users of our products … to use the internet to manage the physical world to optimal benefit. For example, I use both wireless and wired connections to retrieve Internet weather to optimize irrigation and water savings while, at the same time, I enable system users (people, of course) to monitor and control their systems over the Internet. It is an extremely exciting field and capability that I have imagined and wanted to work in all my life. Technologies, society, and economies have reached a nexus where implementations of this interconnected world are being quickly realized. Blue Marble is smack-dab in the middle of this movement.”

He stated, “Winning the SDIF contest is a great honor. For tech startups it is a great challenge to garner visibility in a crowded world and this honor both validates and adds welcome momentum to our work. While I sat in the audience watching the other contestants demonstrating their creations, I thought, “Wow, that device is clever. I could use one of those.” When I was announced as the winner, I was both surprised and flattered. And then I thought, “Wow, this audience and the other creative inventors were thinking the same thing, ‘Wow! Blue Marble! I could really use one of those!’ For a product developer and inventor there really is no better feeling!”
Second place winner in the consumer product category, Shane Cox, founder of PEEQ and inventor of the Qball, said “We were so excited to participate in this competition. We are even more excited that we won second place in the consumer product category!” The Qball, is a throw-able wireless microphone designed to encourage audience participation. Originally designed for the classroom as a fun way to get students to engage and interact, we quickly realized the need for this type of system in everything from Q&A at events, to Skype calls in the boardroom, and even Karaoke. At only $150 everyone can be a part of it. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Kickstarter campaign. You know you want one!” For further information, contact Mr. Cox at

The other second place winner George Flint, founder of Impact Reduction Technologies and inventor of the IR SkullCap, said “We developed the technology to reduce impact for people across all walks of life. Using high performance, smart foam technology, we are developing products that help reduce impact to the head and body when added to apparel. The first retail ready product is the IR SkullCap, which can be inserted in any type of hat or beanie. Initial testing has shown that it reduces impact to the head by 60%. “For further information, contact Mr. Flint at

Second place winner in the technology category, John Baranek, inventor of the Intruder Id, said “Winning second place was a big boast to our team efforts to develop an easy to install, affordable intruder system using the latest advances in solar power and wireless technology. We’ve done proof of concept, but now need to make a working prototype system to do a beta test in conjunction with a local law enforcement agency. In these days of budget cuts for law enforcement, it will be a great aid for law enforcement to have a picture of the intruder to make it easier to catch repeat offenders. We want to make the system so easy to install and affordable that a “grandmother” can do it herself.” For further information, contact John Baranek at

Other consumer product contestants were:

Rodolpho Brasolin for his collapsible, portable rack for all types of boards, such as surfboards, snow boards, kite boards. It is easily attached or removed from a wall when changing residences. A standing rack not requiring attachment to a wall is in development for athletes who travel.

Joe Buttici for his Pand-A-Choo stuffed doll with a movable right arm and sound to train children to cough or sneeze into their elbow.

Michael Kadie for his Pocket Rocket – a dual USB port that can charge two devices at the same time, featuring a car adapter, Lithium battery, and LED flashlight.

Dean McBain for his wall outlet and light switch gaskets to help prevent the following: Bed bug infestation, Toddler electrocution & choking, saves on heating and cooling costs, makes the wall outlets vanish, helps prevents home and office fires, prevent exposure of toxic gas, cigarette smoke exposure and toxic mold exposure through the wall outlet.

Houman Nikmanesh for his Bixpy Aqua Booster – a portable water jet with modular capabilities to act as a hand-held diver propulsion device, a paddleboard or kayak motor, and even a water pump with available attachment.

Anna Vasquez for her patented spotlight built into the front of a portable iron.

The other technology category contestants were:

Michael Kadie for his Simple Solutions Inclusive Lithium-ion master battery management system with a wide variety of potential applications for the safety and longevity of battery packs.

Dean McBain for his patented Alive Biometric Authentication Identification Security System Solutions, which combines one or more biometric signature sensing identification sensor(s) to authenticate the operator, coupled with physiological sensing sensors to verify the individual is “Alive”. The system then analyzes their physiological condition. If the individual’s condition is within their set parameters, then operation/access is granted through the device or system to the individual.

This was the sixth invention contest that I have attended, and the products and technology presented by the contestants were the most technically developed and market-ready of any previous contest. The availability of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding mechanisms is providing the opportunity for inventors to get their products into the marketplace faster than ever. It was exciting to see the progress of so many of our San Diego Inventors Forum members. Our meetings are held at the conference facilities of AMN Healthcare in the Carmel Valley area of San Diego the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 PM. Our meetings cover topics such as harnessing creativity, patents, trademarks & copyrights, licensing, how to select the right processes and sources for manufacturing (which I give), video and internet marketing for inventors, finding funding, and planning and giving presentations. Meeting presentations are recorded and can be viewed on YouTube.

New Textile Dyes and Fiber Could Generate Paradigm Shift

August 11th, 2015

It is rare to encounter a technology that is so disruptive that it has the potential to generate a paradigm shift, and I had that opportunity last month when I interviewed Suzanne DeVall, founder and president of PBO, Inc. Her patented technology for utilizing the bi-product from tobacco plants to create a new textile fiber and natural dyes could generate a paradigm shift in the textile and leather industries.

I first met Ms. DeVall over four years ago when I was a managing member of a small business incubator for startup companies in the “clean technology” field. She was too early stage for our program, as she was going through a lengthy R&D stage, but I kept in touch with her to keep informed of her progress because I thought her technology had great promise.

In my recent interview at her office in Palm Springs, I asked how and when she got the idea of utilizing tobacco plants. She said, “I’ve been involved with the textile industry for over 30 years and have been a champion for organic materials. From 2007 to 2009, I was part of a small team who traveled to growing areas in Europe and the Middle East to set controls for certified organic textiles. In Turkey and Syria, I saw organic tobacco fields near cotton fields. Tons of plant material was going to waste since they only harvested the leaves for tobacco products, and I thought it would be interesting to see if a textile fabric and natural dye could be produced out of the tobacco plant bi-product. I began working with scientists in the Carolina Research Triangle along with key scientists in the tobacco agricultural and harvesting industry to verify that there was a large amount of raw material resources to support a large scale industrial project.”

I told her that I had written about the devastation of the southern textile industry in my book due to mills closing after transferring textile manufacturing to China, India, and other Asian countries. The textile industry lost 57% of it jobs from 2000 – 2010, and North Carolina had a large number of textile companies, so was the state most impacted by job losses in that industry. It was no wonder that North Carolina scientists were interested in a new textile fabric and dyes made from one of the state’s major crops.

Ms. DeVall continued, “With the assistance of leading scientists, we began converting the tobacco plant bi-product into a viable textile dye. After thousands of trials, our work led to the AvaniTM Color System to be sold under our wholly owned subsidiary, Dimora Colours, Inc., and I was issued a patent on April 8, 2014. We convert our extracted liquid base to a one-step and two-step powder process that is water-soluble. Our research also resulted in a “spinable” fiber that could be woven into fabric, but you can’t patent a fiber any more than you can patent fabrics made out of cotton, silk, flax, hemp, or wool.”

I asked why organic dyes are important, and she said, “The apparel industry is a seven trillion dollar a year industry that uses an astounding 8,000 synthetic chemicals, so it has a big pollution problem. The World Bank estimates that 17 – 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile coloration and treatment. They have identified 72 toxic chemicals in our water solely from textile dyeing, 30 of which are permanent. This is a serious environmental issue for the industry. The U. S. EPA and other national and international agencies have placed increasingly strict regulations on the manufacture and use of synthetic colorants. The pigment and dye industry has had to develop the technology necessary to analyze and remediate pollutants in wastewater.”

She added, “Consumers have the mistaken illusion that synthetic fibers and dyes in clothing are safe. Your skin is the largest organ of elimination and absorption—what goes on the skin goes in the body. When toxins are absorbed through your skin, they are taken-up by the lymphatic system, then into the blood stream and eventually the liver to remove the toxins from your body. Your skin also keeps you healthy by actually eliminating about one pound of toxins daily.”

Our process doesn’t need the pre-treatment, washing, soaping and adding of enzymes, so it only takes three hours compared to the 8 to 10 hours of the traditional dyeing process. With our organic materials, we do not require harmful chemicals for processing the fibers and dyes. Our one-step and two-step powder process is a key development for saving energy, water, time labor and shipping costs. Our dyeing process saves about 60% of labor, energy, and water.”


I asked how she came up with that figure. She said, “We have been in clinical trials with major dye houses in the United States, Japan and Europe over the past 18 months with great success. We ran dyeing trials using our dyes at three companies, and these companies told her that it saved them about 60% of labor, energy, and water. They don’t have to heat water for so many different batches to do the pre-treatment, dyeing cycle, soaping, washing, and enzyme treatment.

She added that they use a water filtration system prior to delivering the colorant to the fibers in the final stages. “The water required for our closed loop system does not have to be of a high quality as our process purifies the water. The remaining water is then reused for the next batch. Our water system utilizes the content of the discharge and neutralizes it to a PH of 7.0; which is alkaline not acidic. As this discharge is neutralized during our process, the water is not only safe, it is also drinkable. This is a very attractive and cost-effective major benefit to third world countries where water is a scarce resource.”


Ms. DeVall then showed me many different samples of fabric, household textiles, and leather that had been dyed using her proprietary dyeing process. She showed me samples of cotton, hemp, silk, cashmere, and her tobacco fiber in addition to combinations of all of these fibers. The colors were so rich and vibrant that I wanted something made out of every different fabric. The colors ranged from a soft butter yellow to a rich dark purple. The leather was so soft that I thought it was deerskin, but she said it was just normal cowhide. The natural properties of her tobacco plant based dyes have a softening effect on leather that reduces the amount of tanning required.

I next inquired about the industries that could benefit from the AvaniTM Color System. Ms. DeVall responded, “In addition to the apparel industry, our dyes could obviously be used by companies producing household linens and textiles. But there are several other industries that could benefit from using our dyes, such as the leather goods industry, furniture manufacturers for fabric and leather upholstery, paper and packaging, and cosmetics. Our dye powders could also be added to PET material that comes in a powder to make colored bottles and containers without any added chemicals.” This made me think of the company I visited on my plant tour in Toledo, Ohio, Plastic Technologies, Inc., because they make clear and colored bottles and containers out of PET material.

This led me to ask how they plan to market their products. Ms. DeVall replied, “We plan to obtain licensing agreements with companies in different industries and regions of the world. We have discussed a license agreement with several dye manufacturers to process all our major orders. We would provide the technology and they would provide the processing facility and produce the dyes on a royalty arrangement. We have secured our first license agreement with a company in Japan to sell in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.”

On my drive back home to San Diego, I felt as if I had been given a rare gift of an encounter with a visionary whose knowledge, experience, and tenacity had given birth to a new technology that could indeed generate a paradigm shift in more than one industry and make our global environment better in so many ways. I look forward to writing a future article about PBO’s success.


Northwest Ohio’s Advantages as a Manufacturing Location

July 30th, 2015

I was recently provided the opportunity to tour manufacturing plants in the Toledo, Ohio region by the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP), a privately held economic development corporation. Coming from drought-stricken San Diego where everything is brown to the lush green of Toledo was like being in paradise. I was even more impressed by the diversity and use of advanced technology, automation, and robots at the companies we visited. These were no “rust belt” companies.

John Gibney, V. P., Communications and Marketing, of RGP, was our tour host for the five plant visits we did over a two-day period. There were three of us journalists on the tour, Jill Jusko from Industry Week, Jenny McDonald from Manufacturing News, and myself as a freelance journalist. Also along were photographer Ana Duee from JobsOhio and Hannah Dixon of Development Counsellors International, RGP’s Public Relations firm that selected us for the tour.

As a 100 percent, privately funded economic development organization, the Regional Growth Partnership can operate beyond political boundaries. Investors include major corporations in the region, banks, utilities, universities and service providers such as law, finance, and insurance firms. The RGP offers a full range of traditional business development services, working in collaboration with its partners across the region to expedite and simplify the site selection process.

The RGP vision is that “Northwest Ohio and the adjoining Michigan region will be a premier global location for business and a leader in knowledge-based economic growth.” Their mission to achieve this vision is that “We will be the primary, private sector contributor to a collaborative regional economic development enterprise driving growth in jobs, capital investment, and wealth to Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.”

The RGP serves as Northwest Ohio’s network partner for JobsOhio, “a private, nonprofit corporation designed to drive job creation and new capital investment in Ohio through business attraction, retention and expansion efforts.” The RGP is one of the six regional economic development partners of JobsOhio, known collectively as the JobsOhio Network. The Network “provides the necessary connectivity to achieve a One Firm, One State approach to selling Ohio.”

I asked John if the region had lost any major companies or divisions of during the depth of the recession, and he responded, “No, we did not lose any corporations. We had cutbacks and layoffs during the depth of the recession, but no actual company relocations.” He added, “We had a peak unemployment rate of 13.8% in June 2009 for the Toledo Metropolitan Area, but it dropped down to 4.8% by May 2015.

I also asked John what has been their biggest success story of recruiting a company to locate in their region, and he replied, “Brazilian firm Valfilm North America purchased the former Dow Chemical Company plant in Findlay, saving the 55 employees left over from Dow. The company expects to add an additional 80 jobs with capital investment in excess of $13 million. Findlay beat out sites in South Carolina and Texas in a competitive search process.”

In data provided by RGP, I noted that out of a total workforce of 635,057 in the 17-county Northwest Ohio region, there are 172,805employed in Manufacturing. I calculated that nearly 25% (24.8) of the workforce have associate, bachelor, or graduate degrees, and 63.7% are between the ages of 25-54, so it is a younger workforce that most regions.

As a director on the board of the San Diego Inventors Forum, I was most interested in the fact that “the RGP created Rocket Ventures, a business assistance and pre-seed venture capital organization that operates in an 18-county area of Northwest Ohio. Rocket Ventures, LLC’s mission is to prepare technology-based start-up companies for funding and sustainability by providing intensive business assistance, enhanced management services, and pre-seed investments. Its vision is to create high-tech, high-wage jobs and to generate wealth in Northwest Ohio. Eligible clients of the organization possess significant intellectual property for revolutionary technologies.” I know how important it is for startup ventures to be able to get the investors they need to go complete their product development process and get their product successfully launched in the marketplace.

The Regional Growth Partnership’s business development efforts are focused on six primary cluster industries:

  • Advanced & Alternative Energy
  • Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Technologies
  • Automotive
  • Bioscience
  • Food Processing & Agribusiness
  • Transportation & Integrated Logistics

Toledo and Northwest Ohio have been called the “Solar Valley” because of having nearly 2,000 people working in industries related to photovoltaic development. “Moving forward, Toledo and Northwest Ohio are uniquely positioned for success in the solar industry due to a manufacturing and glass-making heritage, world-class research and educational facilities, thin film next-generation photovoltaic expertise and supply chain resources and logistics. In addition, the State of Ohio in 2010 designated Northwest Ohio as a Solar Hub of Innovation.”

Two of the companies we visited are in the Advanced and Alternative Energy industry cluster and one was in the automotive cluster.

The first company we visited on our tour was First Solar, Inc., the largest solar assembly plant in North America and the overall company is the world’s largest manufacturer of thin film Cadmium-Telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic modules. Founded in 1999, First Solar was the first solar company to produce 1GW in a single year, break the $1/watt manufacturing cost barrier, and implement a global PV module-recycling program. While the company headquarters is in Tempe, AZ, the U. S. manufacturing plant is located in Perrysburg, a suburb of Toledo, to be in close proximity to their glass technology that is centered in the Northwest Ohio area. They have installed 10GW worldwide and have 3GW in their contract pipeline. After watching a video about the company, Mike Koralewski, Sr. Vice President, Module Manufacturing, Jim Koedam, Plant Manager, and Jay Lake, Manager, Manufacturing Training, gave us a tour of the main manufacturing building at the Perrysburg site that houses four production lines making their solar panels. The campus includes over one million sq. ft. of floor space and they are converting a warehouse to another production building. They have about 1,300 employees in Perrysburg. They also have six manufacturing plants in Malaysia.

We next visited the Rossford plant of Pilkington North America, Pilkington is part of the NSG Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of glass and glazing products for the architectural, automotive industry and technical glass sectors.? Founded in 1918, the company was transformed in 2006 with the acquisition of Pilkington plc, itself a global leader in the glass industry and the inventor of the Float Glass process.? The Pilkington name was retained as a brand for the Group’s architectural and automotive products.

Pilkington North America has five float glass lines in the U.S. ? Rossford, Ohio (2); Laurinburg, North Carolina (2); and Ottawa, Illinois (1). The company has approximately 4,700 employees in North America. The Rossford plant makes float glass for the automotive market and also fabricates glass for specialty transport vehicles, such as farm equipment.

V. P. of Sales and Marketing, Stephen Weidner, conducted the tour for us and told us that the Rossford plant has about 2.5 million sq. ft. of floor space and the glass float production line is as long as a football field. At the beginning of the line, the furnace melts the pure Silica in the form of sand, limestone, and other ingredients into a liquid at 2900o C, which is cooled down to 1,050o C as it floats over the liquid tin and then further cooled down to about 200o C by the end of the line, where robots handle the glass until it is scored and broken into the right size for the end product, stacked into “books” of glass, and cooled enough for human handling. This production line was truly an amazing sight to a person who is fascinated by all types of manufacturing processes.

We next visited the General Motors Powertrain plant in Toledo where the six and eight-speed transmissions are manufactured. Plant Manager Joseph Choate gave us an overview of the division and a plant tour of both the six and eight-speed transmission production lines. This plant has about two million sq. ft. of floor space and about 2,000 employees (1,844 hourly and 184 salaried). One interesting note is that he showed us a picture of the solar panels on a portion of the roof of the building supplied by First Solar, providing 10% of their power.

As a sales rep who has sold every kind of metal casting processing, I have never seen such complex, intricate die castings as those supplied to GM. I was also impressed with the integration of robotics and automation with the human production line workers, which essentially made their jobs easier to perform, ergonomically safer, and more varied because every worker is cross-trained for every job in both the six and eight- speed transmission lines. By the end of these three tours, I felt I had walked five miles.

We ended the day by meeting Paul Toth, Jr., President and CEO of the Toledo/Lucas County Port Authority, at the site of the development of the Overland Business Park, an 80-acre site being redeveloped. He told us that it was originally the site of the Willys-Overland plant that converted from bicycle to automotive manufacturing in 1910 and produced the Jeep brand products from the 1940s through 1987, when it was purchased by Chrysler. He said, “The Port Authority purchased the property in 2010 Chrysler during their bankruptcy reorganization and has razed the plant, except for one of the brick smokestacks.” Extensive grading is being done to level the land to provide easier access to the nearby I-75 interchange and two active Class 1 rail lines. We saw the first of several planned Class 1 spec buildings that is nearly finished. What was very interesting to me is that the Toledo Port Authority’s jurisdiction is not limited to land adjacent to Lake Erie or the two tributary rivers as the San Diego Port Authority’s jurisdiction is limited to land adjacent to the San Diego harbor. The Port Authority operates the Port of Toledo, Toledo Express Airport and Toledo Executive Airport, also known as Metcalf Field, and acquired Central Union Terminal from Conrail in 1994, which was rededicated in 1996 after a $3.1 million renovation.

In addition, the Port Authority entered the business finance arena in 1988 and has assisted in financing close to 300 economic development projects representing a total investment of more than $1 billion while helping to create and retain more than 15,000 jobs. The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority operates the Northwest Ohio Bond Fund.

On day two, we first visited Plastic Technologies, Inc. (PTI), located in Holland, where Chairman and founder Thomas Brady, Ph.D., and President and COO Scott Steele gave us a thorough company overview and tour of their facility. PTI is the leading industrial source for preform and package design, package development, rapid prototyping, pre-production and material evaluation engineering of PET bottles and containers. PTI manufacturing capabilities include injection molding of preforms and blow molding utilizing these injection molded performs. I have seen the extrusion type of blow molding being done here in San Diego, but had never seen blow molding using injection molded performs, which is a much faster process.

We concluded our day with a visit to Surface Combustion, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Dan Goodman, V. P. Sales & Marketing said that Surface Combustion was founded in Bronx, NY in 1915 to utilize patents covering a heating concept called “surface combustion.” The company relocated to Toledo in 1924 to serve the growing Midwest industrial base and Toledo glass industry. Surface Combustion has used its technology to design and build a diverse array of thermal systems (furnaces) and equipment, such as atmosphere and vacuum furnaces, atmosphere gas generator equipment, and steel mill equipment. It became a family-owned business when William Bernard, Jr. became the majority owner and President in 1998. The 66,000 sq. ft. plant has four manufacturing bays capable of assembling equipment that could be as tall as 25 ft. and as long as 35 ft. in the highest bay, utilizing their 20-ton overhead crane.

There is interconnectedness between four of the five companies we toured. NSG Pilkington makes the glass that First Solar uses to manufacture their solar panels. GM Powertrain has First Solar panels installed on its building. GM Powertrain either directly or indirectly uses heat-treating equipment produced by Surface Combustion. The common reason why all these companies are located in the Toledo region is the abundant source of natural gas as an energy source. The Northwest Ohio region offers some of the lowest industrial electric rates in the Midwest (4.73 cents per kilowatt-hour for industrial electricity.)

A trained, educated workforce is also another advantage of the region served by the Regional Growth Partnership. In addition, recent tax reforms in Ohio have reduced the tax burden by up to 63%. Toledo is located with a day’s drive of nearly half the U. S. and Canadian industrial markets representing nearly 100 million people according to data from the Port Authority. All of these factors add up to making the Northwest Ohio region an attractive manufacturing location.

However, I can’t say it better than what President and CEO Dean Monske said at our dinner, “I am born and raised in the Toledo area but I have traveled the world extensively and gotten the opportunity to witness and experience a wide range of diverse economies. For me, I still come back to Toledo as the perfect place to build your business and love your life. So, yes, I am a passionate champion of this region. But for the Regional Growth Partnership, our biggest cheerleaders in selling Northwest Ohio are the corporate leaders who have lived around the world and chosen this area to live and raise their families. They are our greatest advocates.”