Archive for the ‘Manufacturing’ Category

Innovation Spurs Growth in Piedmont Triad Region of North Carolina

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

My last day in North Carolina began with a visit to The Forge Greensboro, a Makerspace that also functions as an accelerator for startup businesses. My hosts, Brent Christiansen, President and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, Loren Hill, President of the neighboring High Point Economic Development Corporation, Mary Wilson from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, and I with Joe Rotondi, Executive Director, and he gave us a tour. He said, “The Forge was started in 2014 by Andy Zimmerman as an entirely volunteer-run organization in a 3,400-square-foot space building down the street. It was only open three nights a week and was completely volunteer run. As membership quickly grew beyond the capacity of the building, we moved to this 8,000-square-foot space in the fall 2016, and I was hired as the full-time executive director. We are the largest and most comprehensive of the community-type makerspaces in North Carolina. Other larger makerspaces are affiliated with universities”

He explained, “We are a non-profit and have about 190 members. We have about a dozen people who teach classes and help maintain the equipment. Our space is split up into office space, a conference room, and manufacturing space. Most of the equipment has been donated, and all members are given affordable access to machinery for woodworking, machining, welding, sewing, 3D printing, laser engraving, electronics and ceramics.”

We met two members of The Forge during the tour: Marc Pinckney and Sam Rouse. Marc is using the equipment to build custom entertainment centers, and Sam is building custom furniture. Sam said that he moved to Greensboro to start Sam Rouse Furniture specifically because of the woodworking equipment available at The Forge. He has been able to launch his company faster and get new clients. I was pleased to learn that he is even making some wood furniture for BuzziSpace that I visited on my first day.

When I checked out the website to write this article, I learned that The Forge Greensboro launched a “Forge Ahead” fundraising campaign last week on October 11th. “The Forge is an amazing outlet for creative people, as well as a resource for employers looking to hire skilled workers,” said Executive Director Joe Rotondi. “The “Forge Ahead” campaign will equip our makers with the tools they need to actualize their ideas, as well as expand our mentor and career development programs.”

Our next stop was Winston-Salem, one of the three major cities in the Piedmont Triad region. We met Robert Leak, Jr., President of Winston-Salem Business Inc., at Whitaker Park to tour of one of the buildings on the 125-acre, 1.7 million sq. ft. campus that was donated by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in April 2017. The recipient was the Whitaker Park Development Authority Inc., a nonprofit corporation created in 2011 by Winston-Salem Business Inc., the Winston-Salem Alliance and Wake Forest University.

Bob Leak and Loren Hill commented that the building we toured was the tobacco plant that hosted tours for elementary school children when they were young. Although the building has been closed for a few years, it had been maintained R.J. Reynolds, and the utilities were now being paid for by Winston-Salem Business Inc.  It was mind boggling to walk through this enormous 850,000 sq. ft. building and imagine the millions of cigarettes that had been produced in this plant. Fortunately, the layout will facilitate the building being redeveloped into space for seven to eight different companies as there are several entrances/exits and roll-up doors for deliveries around the perimeter of the building.  They already have five companies interested in the space already.

This set the stage for our drive into the heart of Winston-Salem where we drove by several much older buildings that were previously owned by R.J. Reynolds when tobacco production was in the heart of the city. The largest building was sold to the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in 1986, and the rest of the downtown plants’ land and buildings were donated at the same time to the City of Winston-Salem because R.J. Reynolds was moving to a modern manufacturing center 15 miles north of the city.

We had a brief tour and lunch at one of these former tobacco plant buildings that has been re-purposed as the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter by “a partnership between the city and state, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Wake Forest University and Wexford Science and Technology, a Baltimore-based primary developer.

At lunch, we met Allen Joines, Mayor of Winston-Salem and Eric Tomlinson, PhD, who wears three “hats”— President of Wake Forest Innovation Center, Chief Innovation Officer of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Mayor Jones said, “Winston-Salem began the course to become a knowledge-based economy in 1995. We started to focus on innovation, and there was strong collaboration in the city. The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is becoming an economic engine for the state. A lot of the companies in the center were the relocation of companies already in Winston-Salem, but we are starting to see businesses forming around the research center. The Innovation Quarter has become a great place to Work, Live, Learn and Play because of the repurposing of some buildings as residential apartments.”

Dr. Tomlinson said, “We are the fastest growing innovation center in the U.S. by size and number of people employed. We are the new hub for innovation in biomedical science, information technology, digital media, clinical services and advanced materials. We have 1.9 Million sq. ft. of space covering 337 total acres, and currently, we have 3,453 people working here, 152 companies, five academic institutions with 1,395 students enrolled this fall. We have 619 research units, and the 78 service companies generate $4.8 million in revenue. Every high-tech job creates several support jobs. People like working at the center, and they have access to about 270 different events monthly. We celebrate Juneteenth, a yoga event, and a bicycle race.”

According to the website, the five academic institutions are:  Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University, Salem College, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Forsyth Technical Community College. It also features the following highlights of the center:

  • ” Patented university technologies available for licensing
  • Cost-effective scientific services
  • An advanced telecommunications structure, with a fiber optic ring running throughout
  • Venture capital opportunities, with many top venture capital firms in North Carolina within a 75-mile radius
  • Business incubation, capacity planning, entrepreneurial counseling and training”

Dr. Tomlinson said, “We have weekly meeting of entrepreneurs in our center every Tuesday evening. We have program topics that benefit entrepreneurs.  Flywheel co-working innovation space located at the Center for Design Innovation was our first incubator, where people can come together to work on the fly, learn and share knowledge.  In January, we will add a Maker Space and “Tinker” shop with manufacturing equipment.”

Our last stop of day before going to the airport to return home was Thomas Built Buses, Inc. in High Point, where we met with Caley Edgerly, President/CEO.  Mr. Edgerly said, “Thomas Built buses is the largest bus manufacturer in North America.  “We built our Saf-T-Liner C2 plant in 2004, which was a state of the art $100MM investment by our parent company, Daimler. We produce thousands of vehicles each year across our two main manufacturing facilities in High Point, and we have approximately 1,900 employees at these locations.”

He explained, “The company was founded in 1916 by Perley A. Thomas to build streetcars. In just a few years after the company’s founding, Thomas streetcars were carrying passengers in many of North America’s largest cities —notably in New Orleans on the line that was the inspiration for “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the famous play written by American playwright Tennessee Williams. The company switched to building school buses in 1936. In 1998, Thomas Built Buses became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Freightliner LLC, and Daimler purchased Freightliner in 2000. Freightliner is now known as Daimler Trucks North America LLC, the largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America. The chasses they use come from the Daimler Trucks plant in South Carolina.”

Then, Mr. Edgerly gave me a tour of the plant where I first watched six robots weld the front end of the bus and one robot stack the assembly.  The paint booth is large enough to fit their 30-ft. bus, and three robots do all of the painting. I got to watch a bus being matched and attached to a chassis.

I asked when they had transformed into a lean company, and he said that the plant was set up in a lean way, so this plant gave birth to the Lean Way for the company.   Now they operate under the Daimler TOS (Truck Operating System).

I asked what are the advantages of being in High Point, and he said, “Continuation of the heritage of the company, ability to have long-term employees, and good supply of new workers in the region.  When we had to hire 50 new workers, we had 1,000 applicants. We are also close to the center of our manufacturing suppliers, and we are located in the middle of the population centers on the East Coast. The traditions of manufacturing are passed down from generation to generation.”

As I ended my trip to North Carolina, I felt good about the potential for future growth of the more diverse manufacturing sectors that are now in the region.  With low tax rates, a favorable business climate, programs for apprenticeships and employee training, Maker Spaces, incubators, and innovation hubs such as the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, North Carolina is poised for a manufacturing boom in the future.

North Carolina Prepares for the Future through Training and Redevelopment

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

At the TEDx San Diego event on Saturday, October 14th, Dr. Mary Walshok, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Programs and Dean of Extension at the University of California, San Diego, gave a short talk in which she said we need to add HEART to STEM.  She coined the acronym HEART meaning Hands-on, Engaged, Applied, Relevant Training whereas STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering & Math.

She said too many educators don’t realize the need for the hands-on workers, such as machinists, welders, plumbers, electricians, etc. Too many parents are focused on their children getting a college education, which is why we have millions of unfilled jobs requiring hands-on training. She recommended combining HEART and STEM to be more competitive as a country in the global economy.

Fortunately, there are more and more cities, regions, and states that have awakened to this problem and are doing something about it.  Charleston, South Carolina and the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina are among the problem-solving regions.

After visiting the Guilford Technical Community College aviation training center that I wrote about in my last article, my hosts took me to visit one of the companies involved in the apprenticeship program, Machine Specialties Inc., where we met with Rob and Tammy Simmons, President and Executive Vice President of the company.

Rob said, “The company was founded by Carlos Black in 1969 after he moved to the U.S. from Argentina where he had apprenticed as a machinist. I started in 1980, and we were primarily a small machine shop supporting the textile industry. In 1990, we expanded into screw machine parts. We got our first government contract in 1995. I became part owner in 1998, and we moved into a new building in 2003. We expanded into doing large parts like aircraft landing gear and added in-house anodizing and chem film. We bought this building in 2009 with all of office equipment. We added a large laser cutting machine in 2009, and now have two lasers. Then, we bought two large multi axis WFL machines to be able to machine Titanium. We are open 24/7, but our weekend shift works three days. We are AS9100 Certified for aerospace, ISO 9001 for commercial, and ISO 13485 for medical parts.

I bought the company in 2005, and today, we are a leading contract machining and metal finishing specialist that designs and manufactures parts for many different industries including the aerospace, military, and medical industry. We plan to grow to be a $50 million-dollar company by 2020.”

He added, “We realized that we had a problem because about 15% of our employees will be old enough to retire within the next five years. So, we need to train new workers to take their place.”

Tammy said, “We were one of the first six companies to work with Guilford County Schools in starting a new apprenticeship program in the fall of 2016 for those interested in the advanced manufacturing field. Students will undergo a three to four-year program where they can receive an associate’s degree in Manufacturing Technology, a journeymen certificate as a machinist or welder, have their school paid for, and then end up with a manufacturing job.

About 50 students, juniors and seniors, applied for the program, and 27 students were selected to start the program initially.  This year we are up to 20 companies participating in the apprenticeship program.  During the summer, the students took classes for six weeks and then worked full-time for six weeks.

The students who are seniors when they start the program, spend half the day at school and then the other half working at our company. The students who applied as seniors and then graduate, go to school one day a week at GTCC to pursue their associate’s degree in manufacturing technology and then spend four days working.  GAP pays students hourly wage while on the job and when they sit in class at community college. I think it’s important to note that apprentices are paid while they are in class earning their degree because I don’t know of any other programs that do this. We also pay the students for their tuition and books while at GTCC.”

Afterward, Vice President Bob Schumacher gave us a tour of the plant, where we met three of their apprentices, two young men and one young woman.  One of the young men had graduated from high school before starting the program in the summer, and two are seniors this year. The young woman knew she wanted to be a welder when she started the program because her family have been employed in the manufacturing industry.

Then, we drove to Browns Summit, near Greensboro, to visit ABCO Automation, where we met with Brad Kemmerer, President   and CEO, and Jack Walsh, EVP Sales and Marketing.  Mr. Kemmerer said, “We build custom automation equipment and are a FANUC and KUKA robot integrator. Our company was started in 1977 by Graham Ricks, but we converted to an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) in 1998. We started working with Coca Cola in the beginning to build electrical control systems and custom packaging equipment.  We designed the system that McDonalds uses to pump the syrup into their restaurants.

He explained, “In the late 1980s, we began to diversify our customer base by building custom equipment for a broader range of manufacturers. We began to go beyond packaging projects into manufacturing assembly, material handling, and inspection equipment. Now, our customer base is very diversified — all of the typical industries represented in North Carolina — Aerospace, Automotive, Chemical, Food & Beverage, Electronics, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Tobacco. Most of our customers have 25-30 plants around the world, and the average price of a system is $1 million.”

He added, “We have 150 employees, but added 23 employees in the last six months and 40 in the last 18 months.  We need to build a supply of future workers if we want to continue to grow. We have supported the robotics competition, For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST). For two weekends in January, we host more than 60 students from six local high school robotics teams to help them kick-start their FIRST Robotics Competition. After learning the theme of the competition, each team has just six weeks to design, build, and ship the robot to the FIRST national competition. We provide guidance from our mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and project managers to assist students, their mentors, and coaches.

When we heard about the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) program, we hosted the meetings and helped with the high schools. We currently have four apprentice students learning the skills of an electrician, mechanic, fabricator, and machinist. Two are first year apprentices and two are second year apprentices. We believe this a win-win for all—we supplement our current manufacturing team, and the students gain paid on the job experience while earning a college education.”

By this time, it was late afternoon, so we headed back to Greensboro to enjoy dinner at Natty Green’s Kitchen + Market, which is a combination micro-brewery, farm-to-market restaurant, and store located in a redeveloped textile mill.  Natty Green’s is in one of the buildings of Revolution Mill, a 45-acre historic textile campus that brings apartments, restaurants, events, history, and innovation together as the “Place of Choice to Live, Work and Create in Greensboro.”

Nick Piornack, Business Development Manager, gave us a tour of two of the former textile mill buildings — one that has been re-purposed for offices and studio space, and the other as an apartment building.  Between two of the apartment building is an outside event space where one of the finalists of The Voice was performing.  There is one classic building yet to be redeveloped on the property.

From the website, I learned that Revolution Mill is “a historic textile mill campus encompassing the Revolution Mill and Olympic Mill sites, with adjacent land connected by North Buffalo Creek. Located just north of downtown Greensboro, Revolution began operations as the South’s first large flannel mill in 1899 and for decades anchored a thriving community of workers and craftspeople. The facility included over 640,000 feet of working space before the textile industry decline led to its closure in 1982. For the next few decades, limited sections of Revolution were renovated into office space, while other parts of the property fell into disuse and disrepair. In 2012 Self-Help assumed ownership of Revolution Mill and is completing the property’s transformation into a mixed-use development…Self-Help is a development credit union and lender headquartered in Durham, NC.”

After the tour, we met with co-founder, Kayne Fisher, of Natty Green’s Kitchen + Market, who gave us a behind the scene tour of the restaurant. Mr. Fisher told us that he had dreamed of owning his own chop house and neighborhood market since childhood. So, when the opportunity to open a restaurant in the Carpenter’s Shop at Revolution Mill came around, his brain-child came to life. The market included a butcher’s counter where you could buy cuts of meat the restaurant used in its menu. As a non-beer drinker, I actually enjoyed tasting a beer that had chocolate in it. Besides the usual steak, chicken, hamburgers, and salads, the menu offered pork chops, lamb chops, and braised brisket, the latter being my choice. All of our diners were delicious.

At the end of a very fully day, it felt good to have seen the results of the redevelopment of an important industrial region with new industries, the re-purposing of old textile plants, and the creation of an apprenticeship program to foster the development of the next generation of manufacturing workers.

North Carolina Rebounds from Effects of Offshoring and Recession

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

After spending two jam-packed days in Charleston, I drove to Greensboro, North Carolina as I didn’t want to fly there through Miami, FL and spend six hours sitting in an airport or on a plane. Since I had never been to either North or South Carolina, it gave me the opportunity to see some beautiful country. I drove by cattle ranches, tobacco farms, and tree farms of Curly Pines, which I learned are the best pines to use for furniture.

I had written about the devastation of the textile and furniture industry in my book published in 2009. I wrote, “North Carolina has been the most impacted state in the nation by layoffs due to trade.  Between 2004 and 206, almost 39,000 North Carolina workers have been certified by the Trade Adjustment Assistance program as having lost jobs to trade, more than 10 percent of the U.S. total of 386,755. Thus, I was very interested in visiting North Carolina to see what had happened to the textile mills and furniture factories and what new manufacturing sectors had developed.

My host for the trip was the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, which is actually a combined Chamber and economic development agency, and Brent Christensen, President and CEO, was my main tour guide. The Piedmont-Triad consists of the area within and surrounding the three major cities of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. The metropolitan area is connected by Interstates 40, 85, 73, and 74 and is served by the Piedmont Triad International Airport. Long known as one of the primary manufacturing and transportation hubs of the southeastern United States, the Triad is also an important educational and cultural region.

These cities closely collaborate, so Loren Hill, President of the High Point Economic Development Corporation and Robert Leak, Jr. President of Winston-Salem Business Inc. shared the tour guide task. Mary Wilson, Communications & Public Relations Manager for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina drove over from Cary, NC to join us on the plant tours.

On Thursday, I was delighted that our first visit was to a company occupying a 100-year old former textile mill in High Point.  We met with Tom Van Dessel, CEO of BuzziSpace., who said they moved into the building in the summer of 2014. BuzziSpace is a Belgium company that has a manufacturing plant in the Netherlands.  The company makes acoustical furnishings that absorb sound to reduce noise and provide privacy in imaginative designs.

Mr. Van Dessel said, “We have about 40 employees now and will be up to about 115 soon. We are already producing about 30-35% of our products in this plant. We were originally looking for about a 30,000 – 35,000 sq. ft. building, but wound up selecting this 120,000-sq. ft., three-story, red brick building because of the potential. We funded a local printing/silk screen company (Splash Works) to be a tenant on the first floor of our building to be our vendor for digital printing on their fabric and felt furnishings. Our felt is made from recycled PET (soda bottles) mixed with 5% virgin industrial felt. We started with five colors of felt and now we have 12 colors.  We have a sole-source contract with the company that makes the felt. Some of our products are acoustical panels, furniture, honeycomb screens, lighting, filing cabinet covers, room partitions and various configuration of privacy spaces. Everyone wants open office space for collaboration, but you need to have private spaces for private conversations. Our panels absorb noise in certain wavelengths.”

The various configurations of privacy spaces have names like BuzziBooth, BuzziHood, BuzziHive, and BuzziHub.  Three of us sat in a BuzziHub (two couches facing each other with panels behind the couches), and the other two couldn’t hear what any of us were saying from a few feet away.

He explained, “We wanted to engage the community we are in, so we planted a community garden in the large “front yard” of our building. Our employees planted fruit trees, vegetables, berry bushes, and Muscadine grapes. At first, the vegetables and berries will be shared by our employees, but when the crops are larger, they will be shared with the surrounding community.  We want what we are doing to be an example to others to do similar things. We are surrounded by small “mill” houses that may still be occupied by former workers of the textile mill. Now, we are hiring some as workers.”

As we drove through High Point on the way to our next stop, Mr. Hill explained that while the city is no longer the hub of furniture manufacturing, it is still the hub for corporate offices, design centers, distribution centers, and furniture show rooms.

He said, “When I was growing up, it was an ordinary downtown of shops, offices, and restaurants, but now nearly every building downtown, including the former post office and library, have been converted to furniture show rooms. The city hosts the High Point Market, the largest furnishings industry trade show in the world in April and October, where furniture companies from all over the world display their products. About 75,000 attendees from more than 100 countries come to each market. It’s unbelievably busy during these two weeks of the year, but the rest of the year, the downtown little activity. The city government is now working hard on a public-private catalyst project to revitalize downtown next to the furniture market area.  That catalyst project will include building a multi-use stadium, a convention center, restaurants and shops, office space, a children’s museum, and urban housing.”

At our next stop, we visited the aviation training facility, located near the airport, and met with Kevin Baker, Director of the Piedmont Triad Airport (PTI), and Nick Yale, Director of the Guilford Tech Community College Aviation Training Facility.

Mr. Baker said, “The Piedmont Triad International Airport is at the center of an aerospace boom that has transformed the I-40 corridor into a job-rich center of aircraft manufacturing, aircraft parts supply, and aviation repair and maintenance. The Piedmont Triad region encompasses 12 counties and three major cities:  Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem. The Airport Authority is the largest employer in the aerospace industry in the state and the 8th largest employer in the state. We have 1,000 acres of land available for development. We have been very active in bringing aviation companies to the area and are now home to more than 50 companies.”

He explained, “Honda Aircraft established its world headquarters, R&D, and manufacturing at the airport in 2006, and expanded in 2012 with a customer service facility. Honda Aircraft employs about 1,900 people with an average salary of $75,000, compared to an average salary of $45,000 for other jobs in the region.

HAECO Americas operates 600,000sq. ft. of space for repair and maintenance services for Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, and Airbus aircraft, and HAECO has about 1,600 employees. In July, HAECO announced it will be building a new $60 million hangar at PTI and will add about 500 jobs. Cessna, part of Textron, established their 46,000-sq. ft. maintenance and service center at the airport in 1993, which has grown to a 137,000 facility, employing about 150 people.”

He added, “FedEx chose PTI because of the exceptional highway connections of I-40, I-85 and I-74. Also, there are four state highway connections to these interstates under construction.  FedEx occupies a 500,000-sq. ft. facility at the airport and has about 4,200 employees.”

“What makes our airport unique is that we have land available for development, uncrowded airspace, and parallel runways,” Mr. Baker said. In addition, we have our aviation training facility.”

Mr. Yale, explained, “In 1969, GTCC started its first aviation program, Aviation Management Technology, followed by an Avionics and Airframe and Powerplant mechanics program in 1970.

We have three buildings, totaling more than 143,000 square feet, located close to each other. The T.H. Davis Aviation Center (Aviation I) is a 36,000 square-foot building owned by PTI that we lease. It has seven classrooms, two computer labs, five laboratory classrooms and a large aircraft hangar with several aircraft including a Boeing 737. It has classes in all of our aviation curriculum. It also houses our aviation department administration and several faculty. Our aviation university partner, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), is also housed in this building.

Our Aviation II is a 60,000 square-foot building, located adjacent to the airport and close to several aviation manufacturing and repair companies. While we lease this building from the Samet Corporation, we have upgraded it several times to address special needs for aviation education. It contains seven classrooms, fourteen specialty laboratories as well as faculty office space. It largely supports the aviation systems technology and aviation electronics technology programs, as well as non-credit (continuing education) programs in aviation.

Our new aviation building (Aviation III), was opened in the fall of 2014 next to the Aviation II building. It has 42,000 square-feet and contains general classrooms, computer labs, a flight simulator lab, library and various student services spaces. It supports the college’s Aviation Management/Career Pilot program.”

He gave me flyers describing their aviation training curriculum for the following:

  • Aviation Management & Career Pilot Technology
  • Aviation Systems Technology
  • Aviation Electronics “Avionics” Technology
  • Aerostructures Manufacturing & Repair

He said, “The Aerostructures Manufacturing & Repair Certificate is a 17-week program, and about 90% nine out of every ten people get hired upon completion. We have expanded and tailored our programs to train people exactly the way our aviation industry wants. We are getting ready to work with HAECO on three more programs next year. Delta Airlines came to us because 80% of their employees would be eligible to retire in the next five years. They needed a new generation of trained workers.

We are working with Andrews High School in High Point to train high school students in an aviation technology apprenticeship program funded by the State legislature. We had 23 students sign up to participate in the apprenticeship program last spring. The students go to school in the morning and work for companies in the afternoon. A consortium of local companies is responsible for initiating the program. HAECO just did an interview process for 50 students to be apprentices.

It was a pleasure seeing how industries outside of furnishings and textiles are expanding in North Carolina and how former textile mills are being re-purposed. My next article will feature more about the apprenticeship program with interviews with a couple of manufacturers that started the program and highlight more about the redevelopment of former textile mills.

From Boats to Tires: Global Manufacturing is Thriving in Charleston, South Carolina

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

During day two of my visit to the Charleston, South Carolina metro area, we visited Scout Boats in Summerville, S.C., which as a boat builder, is a more traditional type manufacturer you expect to find in a deep-water port community.  A family-owned business, Scout builds luxury center console sort fishing and bay boats.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Potts, who founded the company in 1989. Mr. Potts said, “I have been in the boat business since I was 14 years old, and my wife and I made a decision to start making 14-15 ft. fishing boats in a garage we rented after planning for years and saving $50,000.

We got off to a good start, and then Hurricane Hugo hit and leveled our building.  We salvaged what we could and started over. The next winter, we got 11 inches of snow and the roof partially collapsed while we were developing a 17-ft. sized boat. This boat put us on the map, and we sold this model for years. We displayed this boat in the local boat show and came out of the show with a list of 31 dealers that we developed into a dealer network.  We sell exclusively through dealers.

In 1990, I prepared my plan for 1991 and predicted that we would do $750,000 in sales, and we did.  The only year we lost money was 2009. In 1992, we moved down the road to a 12,000-sq. ft. custom-built building.  However, we couldn’t expand, so in in 1995, we bought 16 acres of land and built Plant A. We added another building (plant B) and then added Plant C. Plant A build boats in size from 17-25 ft. Plant B builds boats 27-35 ft. in size, and Plant C builds 38-42 ft. models. built. Plant D will be a 100,000-sq. ft. building to build boats up to 53 ft. in size. We also have a small plant for R & D. We are a debt-free company, so we build when we have the cash.

Today, we have 28-30 models, and our annual sales will be $100 million this year.  For many years, we focused on 25-30 ft. boats, but we are expanding to build up 53 ft. sized boats.  We export 17-18% of our boats. Canada and Mexico are our two top markets, but from 2003-2008, our largest dealer was in Athens, Greece.

We have 380 employees now, and our five-year plan is to grow to 680 employees by 2020. We strive to be as diverse as we can be.  We sell yacht tenders for the large luxury yachts that are towed behind the large yachts. Our three adult children are part of our business and are very involved. Consequently, we have had an ongoing succession plan in place for more than ten years. I want Scout Boats to be a dynasty for years and years to come.”

Mr. Potts is the epitome of the exemplary American entrepreneurial spirit that once made our country the dominant manufacturing center of the world. To think that his company survived three recessions in his 28 years in business without going into debt is extraordinary.

Our next meeting was with Mark Fetten, president and CEO of Cooper River Partners, LLC that manages the Charleston International Manufacturing Center (CIMC) at Bushy Park in Goose Creek, S.C.  CIMC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacolet Milliken Enterprises. CIMC is a 1,750-acre industrial complex in a heavy industrial zone, as well being a Foreign Trade Zone.  It has deep-water access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Cooper River with barge slip access and rail access via a rail spur. CIMC is located less than 10 minutes from two major highways in the region (I-26 and I-526) for trucking products.

In addition to the existing tenants, it has 300 acres of developable land.  The site is currently home to the following manufacturers:

AGFA Corporation – medical x-ray and technical imaging regional distribution center

Evonik – manufacturer of silica for tire production (under construction)

Kemira Chemicals – paper dyes, specialty chemicals for ink jet applications

Lanxess Rubber Chemicals – vulcanization for tires and peptizers used in rubber manufacturing

Nexans – high voltage underground and submarine cables

Philips Industrial Services – industrial and marine painting, fireproofing, hydroblasting, water jetting, epoxy floor systems, and industrial vacuuming

Sun Chemicals – organic pigments for paints, plastics, and cosmetics

Symrise – flavors and fragrances, menthol, sunscreens, and aroma esters (expansion project under construction)

Mr. Fetten discussed the biggest advantages CIMC offers are the utility services and other support functions that allow tenants to focus on their core business. “CIMC enables companies to get their products to the market faster with the existing infrastructure within CIMC, while minimizing CAPEX and risk,” he said.

Located only 1.5 miles from a major power station, CIMC has a one MW solar farm on the property that feeds back into the power grid. A second solar farm is in the final stages of planning. A wide variety of utility services are provided, including electrical, steam, compressed air, nitrogen, refrigeration, natural gas, and waste water treatment. Other services include on-site security, environmental management, and emergency responders.

CIMC was originally built up by Bayer Corporation over a period of 30 years, but in 1999, Bayer started divesting companies.  In 2009, Bayer sold the park to a privately held company of which Marc Fetten was a partner with two other gentlemen. Marc previously worked in M&A for Bayer, so he saw the opportunity.

The driving tour around CIMC showcased the advanced manufacturing legacy of the southeast. In addition to the $250 million in CAPEX I saw under construction, I got to see a gem of heavy industrial manufacturing.  The former General Dynamics and subsequent Jacobs Engineering plant was purchased by Cooper River Partners, LLC in the summer of 2016. This 94-acre facility located adjacent to CIMC, appropriately named CIMC North produced some amazing examples of advanced manufacturing, the nose cones to U.S. Navy Trident Class Submarines and later modular assembly and pipe fabrication.

CIMC North consists of 400,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space, 800,000 square feet of open-air assembly, an array of welding, assembly, blasting, painting and handling equipment, as well as a barge slip and rail access.  Also of note, are the ten bridge cranes, eight of which are rated for a 40-ton load. The two 20-ton bridge cranes have infrastructure in place to support transloading to and from railcars. According to Marc, “CIMC North expands our footprint and facilitates bringing prime industrial, warehouse and distribution space to the market immediately, which is in high demand in the Charleston region. Providing a dock, rail access, large capacity cranes and a 200-ton shuttle lift is a big cost saver for companies looking to minimize CAPEX. This model aligns perfectly with our sustainable approach of minimizing environmental impacts.”

Afterward, we met with Robert Brown, Communications Manager, and Arthur Dube, Business Director, Precipitated Silica & Rubber Silanes. of Evonik Corporation, the U.S subsidiary of Evonik Industries AG, which is a German company that is one of the world’s leading specialty chemicals company. Evonik Industries produces chemicals for a variety of applications, including adhesives, cleaning products, construction materials and employs more than 33,500 people worldwide in more than one hundred countries.

Mr. Brown said, “Evonik Corporation was formed in 2007 in Chester, PA and has 33 plants in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. We have about 5,000 employees in the U. S.  The new plant we are building in this Center will open in June 2018 and produce precipitated silica to supply the tire industry. We will hire about 50 people for this plant. This business park offers the existing infrastructure we need, and there is a high level of skilled workers in the region for the higher paying jobs we offer. There are also workers at other plants that may transfer to this plant. David Elliott will be the Manufacturing Director for the new plant.”

He explained, “Evonik helps improve consumer and industrial products, and this plant will make tires run better, longer, and be stronger. He said that South Carolina has become home to several major tire manufacturers, such as Michelin, Bridgestone, and Continental, so they are following their customers. Another reason for locating in South Carolina is that the Sumter area mines produce 99% pure silica sand that is used in producing our precipitated silica.

Wanli Tire Corporation, a Chinese tire manufacturer, is investing $1 billion to build a new plant in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.  Also, Giti Tire, based in Singapore, announced a new plant last year that is being built just south of Rock Hill, SC.”

These two additional tire plants will further boost the state’s status as America’s tire-producing capital and create over 3,000 new jobs for the region when they are at full employment.

I was given a brief explanation of how they make precipitated silica by mixing silica sand with sodium carbonate and melting them. Then, they dissolve the mixture in water and precipitate it. The resulting white precipitate is filtered, washed and dried in a proprietary manufacturing process. Any further detail exceeds my technical expertise to explain. I was shown samples, which looked like pieces of fluffy popcorn that were a great deal lighter than you would expect from what started as a piece of silica. As an additive to tires, the precipitated silica produces fuel-efficient tires with wet grip properties, which can save up to eight percent in fuel consumption compared to conventional car tires.

This two-day visit to the Charleston region confirmed what Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative has been telling me about the increase of manufacturing jobs from Foreign Direct Investment. The favorable business climate, low state taxes, developable land, and skilled workforce has made South Carolina an attractive location for European companies from Germany, France, Belgium, the U.K, and Denmark to expand their U. S. manufacturing presence. If the U.S. would lower the national corporate tax rate, we would not only attract more Foreign Direct Investment, but would attract more American corporations to return manufacturing to America.

Charleston Manufacturers Focus on Training Current and Future Workers

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

After visiting the Charleston Port terminal and the Mercedes-Benz Vans Training Center, I had the pleasure of visiting several manufacturers during my two-day trip to the Charleston metro area. We first visited Ingevity in North Charleston, where I met Michael Wilson, President and CEO, Dan Gallagher, V.P., Investor Relations, Eric Walmet, Charleston Plant Manager, Jack Maurer, Director, Communications and Brand Management, and Laura Woodcock, Manager, P.R.

Ingevity is a leading global manufacturer of specialty chemicals and high-performance carbon materials that are used in a variety of demanding applications, including asphalt paving, oil exploration and production, agrochemicals, adhesives, lubricants, publication inks, and automotive components that reduce gasoline vapor emissions. The company creates high value-added products from renewable raw materials. The name is “coined” from the meaning of four words:  genuine, ingenuity, innovation, and longevity.

Ingevity was spun off in May 2016 from WestRock, which has a long history and many name changes going all the way back to 1846 when it was founded as Ellis, Chaffin & Company. Ingevity is headquartered in North Charleston, and has manufacturing plants in South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Virginia, as well as two in China. Ingevity has four sites in the Charleston region: its headquarters with 205 employees, the manufacturing plant with 214 employees, the Ashley Center with 109 employees, and the Innovation Center with six employees for a total of 534 employees.

Michael Wilson said, “We recently announced an agreement to acquire Georgia-Pacific’s pine chemicals business for $315 million. This will give us a stronger more competitive pine chemicals business. We also signed a supply agreement with Georgia-Pacific which in combination with our agreement with WestRock, will put 70 percent of our crude tall oil requirements under long-term contract. There is little customer overlap between the two companies. And, because we do business in 65 countries, we believe we can accelerate global growth for the Georgia-Pacific products.”

When I asked him his impression of the manufacturing sector in the region, he responded, “The manufacturing base is very diversified. The business climate of South Carolina is world class. The mindset of the government has been beneficial. It is a right to work state and has low taxes.”

Eric Walmet gave us a tour of the Charleston plant and Innovation Center, where we saw some of the activated carbon end-products made by Ingevity. The products include carbon honeycombs, granular carbons, and shaped carbons used to reduce automotive gasoline emissions. The activated carbon is made by combining sawdust and acid through a proprietary process.

I could see that the plant was laid out on the basis of a Lean value stream mapping event, and there were the obvious signs of the application of Lean tools and principles on the shop floor.

Our next stop was IFA North America in nearby Ladson.  We met with Mauro Amarante, President and CEO, and Ryan Loveless, Training Coordinator.  IFA North America LLC, formerly known as MTU Drive Shafts LLC., was founded in 2002 and operates as a subsidiary of the German company IFA – Holding GmbH.

IFA is one of the world’s leading and largest suppliers of drive shafts and side shafts for the automotive industry. In North America, IFA produces more than two million drive shafts a year and employs more than 600 people.

Mr. Amarante said he has been in the U.S. 11 years, having previously lived in Germany, Brazil, and Verona, Italy where he was born and raised. IFA is currently building a new plant in Berkeley County (still in the Charleston metro area) that will be 234,000 sq. ft., where they will be manufacturing constant velocity joints. They plan to consolidate all their operations and expand to about 400,000 sq. ft. by 2023.

Mr. Amarante said, “South Carolina is very business oriented, and former Governor Nikki Haley was very business focused.  We have all the business conditions we need here to secure our workforce.  We were one of the partners with VTL and three other companies to start an apprenticeship program three years ago to teach basic manufacturing skills like math, statistics, gauging, and machine operations.”

Mr. Loveless gave us the plant tour where we watched their production team turn purchased metal tubes into several designs of drive shafts.  Mr. Loveless said, “In addition to our full-time employees, we utilize about 120 temporary workers from a private agency.  These people work for us for about three-six months, and then we select the best workers to add to our full-time employees base. We would like to reduce the number of temporary employees. This is why we are investing time and money into the apprenticeship program to grow our future employment pool.”

Again, I saw the application of Lean tools and principles throughout the shop floor.  We even had to watch a safety video before we got to take the plant tour, and I was glad I was wearing my own Sears Die Hard steel-toed shoes instead of having to wear their guest shoes. Of course, as an automotive Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier, they are ISO 9001:2008 and TS 16949 Certified.

Next, we visited the VTL Group, also in Ladson, where we met with Jeff Teague, General Manager, and Brian Glasshof, Account Manager.  Mr. Teague said, “The company was started in 1919 and changed its name to Valeo Transmission Ltd. in 1997. The management team, Bruno Joan, Chris Elliott, and a third man who has since been bought out and retired, did a leveraged buyout in 2001.  Chris started at the company as an apprentice when he was a young man.

He said, “I started in November 2011 when the company was in a turn-around mode after the recession. I came from the Greenville/Spartanburg area.  We are now running in a very tight workforce market because of the low unemployment.

We specialize in the design, development, prototyping, and manufacture of high precision components and sub-assemblies for automotive powertrain applications. We have expanded by winning several new contracts.  This plant makes variable geometry turbo parts for Cummins and make engine components for Borg Warner.  Everything we do is built around CAFÉ standards for emissions. VTL Group employs 275 globally, and has 48 employees in this Charleston plant.”

He went on to tell me about the genesis of the region’s youth apprenticeship program. “We were one of the six companies that showed up at a meeting in 2013 to discuss starting an apprenticeship program, which launched in 2014. We had a signing day event for 11 students. Now, this fall we’ll have 100 in the program.  Apprentices can start when they are 16 years old in high school. There are now nine industry sectors and 122 companies in the apprenticeship program. Industrial mechanics is the most requested training.”

Two of their new apprentices were brought in to meet me:  John Cody Geiger and Ty’Celia Young.  Both are high school students.  Ty’Celia said, “My high school engineering teacher encouraged me to apply when I was a junior.” Cody said, “I got an email from my high school principal and applied as a senior, so I graduated before starting at VTL.”

They go to high school in the morning, and then take industry-specific college courses a couple afternoons, and go to work the other afternoons during the school year. In the summer, they work full-time. When they complete the apprenticeship program, they will be Certified as Journeymen by the Department of Labor. They will also have two years of paid work experience on their resume. VTL has hired two past apprentices as full-time employees.

There are 26 schools in the apprenticeship program, public high schools, as well as charter schools and private schools. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce pays for the tuition, tools and supplies for all of the students, so the students are getting their training free of charge. The Charleston Metro Chamber focuses on in-demand occupations. Besides advanced manufacturing, Charleston is also becoming an IT hub.

When I asked about the curriculum, I was told that the community colleges already had curriculum, which the companies helped modify to meet their needs. The program has two main goals:

  • Fill the critical workforce needs.
  • Monitor the next generation of students to keep them in the region.

Apprenticeship training is not all the training provided at VTL. Every employee is allowed one hour a week for training, but it is up to them to take advantage of the opportunity. VTL uses ToolingU training modules for their in-house training program.

Mr. Teague gave us the plant tour, and I was amazed at how many robots they had doing various manufacturing processes and moving parts from one operation to another. No wonder that only 48 employees at this plant are able to maintain the work flow required of a Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive supplier. The parts I saw in process were Variable Cam Timing engine components and turbo-charger components. Mr. Teague showed me their Lean scoreboard section where there are visual displays of all the metrics required for a Lean company.  Naturally, VTL is also ISO 9001:2008 and TS 16949 Certified.

From these tours, I could see why world class companies are choosing to locate or expand in the Charleston, South Carolina region. A very favorable business climate, excellent transportation options by truck, rail, and ship for both national and international destinations, a highly skilled, trained workforce, and apprenticeship programs make the region a desirable location for many manufacturing sectors, especially those that export their products.

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

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Dakota Manufacturers Ride Innovation to Rapid Growth

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDSU Research & Technology Park Leads Region in Job Creation

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wound Up – a coffee plant fiber waste filled filament

Buzzed – made from byproducts of beer production

Entwined – made from industrial hemp

LandFilament – made from upcycled municipal solid waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chad said, “The SEED Sensors provide:

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

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

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

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

 

Workshops for Warriors Holds Successful Inaugural Gala

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

On April 20, 2017, over 300 people attended the Workshops for Warriors Inaugural Gala that was held on the USS Midway Carrier Museum in San Diego, California. Former California Assembly member Nathan Fletcher, now a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, was the Master of Ceremonies.

The WWII tribute trio, the American Bombshells, sang the opening national anthem and provided the entertainment later in the program. Founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors, Hernán Luis y Prado, gave the welcoming remarks and showed the latest short video featuring testimonials by students on how WFW gives them a sense of potential again.

He said, “This evening’s celebration is in honor of the 388 Workshops for Warriors’ veterans, wounded warriors, and transitioning service members who have earned over 1,500 national recognized certifications. Our graduates work in advanced manufacturing centers throughout the U.S.A. and contribute $27 million to America’s economy every year. This number continues to grow. We are proud of their successes and contributions to our community, the manufacturing industry, and our nation as a whole.”

He briefly described how he and his wife, Rachel, had self-financed the training they began providing in their own garage in 2008 while Hernán was still in the service. He said that he heartsick at seeing too many veterans unable to transition successfully into civilian life and even commit suicide. When he ran into one of his buddies from his service in Iraq confined to a wheel chair after losing both his legs from an IED, he and his wife decided to invest all of their assets to expand into their first small building in early 2011. He had previously told me that they got their first outside funding from Goodrich Aerostructures, so that they were able to move into a building twice the size in October 2011.

Hernán said, “Many of you understand our Double Funnel dilemma…a waiting list of over 500 students but over 2,500 jobs available nationwide for each one of our graduates…The Challenge? There is only funding for 50 students every semester. Now is the time to take action to expand Workshops for Warriors with our $21 million capital campaign. This expansion would allow us to train ten times as many veterans and provide them with opportunities to serve America in a new role as they provide for their families and take part in the American dream.”

He extended his heartfelt thanks to Reliance Steel& Aluminum Company, and the Harriet E. Pfleger Foundation for being the Red, White and Blue sponsors for the evening. He said, “These contributors have been our “Champions,” whose dedication and continued support have made a meaningful and profound impact in helping Workshops for Warriors grow while changing the lives of veterans. For example, Reliance Steel provided funding to add 18 welding stations and add a new Computer Aided Design laboratory that allows an additional 18 CAD/CAM students every semester to receive our life changing training and certifications add several stations for CAD/CAM software training.”

He concluded his remarks saying, “I am extremely grateful to those of you who have chosen to take action. I am humbled by your commitment to our nation’s veterans and America’s manufacturing industry. In 150 years, people will look back on Workshops for Warriors as the birthplace of American’s advanced manufacturing renaissance. Thank you for supporting Workshops for Warriors.”

MC Fletcher then introduced Jim Hoffman, Executive V. P. and COO of Reliance Steel & Aluminum Company. He relayed the comments of President and CEO Gregg Mullins, who was unable to attend the event. He said, “Reliance Steel is a proud supporter of Workshops for Warriors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fee training in welding, fabrication, CAD/CAM programming, and advanced machining to Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Active Duty personnel. Their mission is to equip the students with marketable skills and nationally recognized credentials so they can secure careers in manufacturing and achieve success in their civilian lives.”

He continued, “Workshops for Warriors is funded through private donations from individuals and companies like Reliance, and 83% of every dollar donated goes directly to the training programs. Over the years, Reliance has supported Workshops for Warriors by funding equipment purchases, forging partnerships with our industry peers, making donations, and hiring Workshops for Warriors graduate. We have held events among our employees to not only raise funds but increase awareness about the important work being done by Workshops for Warriors to serve a population that has so faithfully served our country. As they transition into the manufacturing sector careers, Workshops alumni continue to serve by contributing to our country’s economy.”

He concluded, “Workshops for Warriors’ Capital Campaign is underway, with a goal of raising $21 million to build a new facility that can accommodate ten times as many students as are currently enrolled. As the Capital Campaign Committee Chairman, President Gregg Mullins is personally calling on you for support. A great opportunity is here for us to give back to those who have gone above and beyond to protect us. Let’s do our part to help our men and women in uniform succeed and thrive.”

Next, Darnisha Hunter, Active Duty and Veterans Family Advocate from the Office of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office, read a proclamation in which April 20, 2017 was declared Workshops for Warriors’ Day in the City of San Diego.

This was followed by a short speech by alumnus Scott Leoncini, who had been a Marine. He said, “When I got out I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I met my amazing wife Michelle… [who] told me that I should go to school. Determined not to lose her, I did just that.” He worked in gun shops while going to college and finished college with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

He said, “I went on a ride along one night with a local police department and decided that I needed to become a police officer…. I applied to almost all the agencies near my home, but only to end up with a stack of denial letters…I hit a huge wall, I was depressed, looking for any better paying job as I was making 10/hr as a security officer. ”

Then, he heard that a Marine friend of his was killed in a helicopter crash in Florida after just coming back from receiving the Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan. Scott said, “It took me 6 years of struggle and Andy dying to realize that I needed to change my path, I needed to identify with something else…”

A few days later, he reconnected with some Marine friends, and one of them, Josh Garcia, “was enrolled at Workshops for Warriors at the time, and he told me about how Workshops helped him get into a welding career. Josh told me that they had a Machining program too. The only thing knew about machining is that it was the process used to make guns. I decided that’s what I would do because honestly, I didn’t know what else to do, this was my last effort. Not sure how I would end up, I took a leap of faith.”

Scott went to school in the day and worked nights at a local gun store as he had to work to support his family. He said, “We had a small class of about 10 students, a few of us were vets, and the rest were active duty. I loved working with vets and active duty marines again… All the guys in class had somehow found their way to Workshops… we all were struggling with transition but had the same goal…create a new identity…”

He graduated in spring 2015 with eight certifications in Mill, Lathe, Solidworks, and Mastercam and was offered a job as a Workshops for Warriors Teaching Assistant and be a part of the train-the-trainer program.

Scott said, “I found that I loved teaching and helping students get through the program…I love to come up with new ways of teaching material, and motivating students to push through when it gets hard. I am grateful for the Train-the-trainer program, and opportunity to help students. I am thankful to Hernan and Rachel for helping me discover my passion. To further my abilities, and to ensure that Workshops continues to be the greatest Advanced Manufacturing  school in America, I recently enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene University School of Education where I am earning a Master’s in Education Teaching and Learning  which will allow me to grow even more within Workshops for Warriors. The train-the-trainer program has given me a new path and allowed me to connect with the veteran community. I am helping other veterans not go through what I did when I got out of the military.”

After this inspiring testimonial, the American Bombshells performed while guests were invited to view and bid on the many silent auction items on display.

Afterward, Special Guest Speaker Donald “Doc” Ballard, Metal of Honor Recipient, gave his remarks. After a brief description of how he earned the Medal of Honor during the Korean War, I took note of the fact that he said, “Too many times, we preach to the choir of those who have served in the military and already have an appreciation for what veterans have done to serve their country. We are missing the mark; only 1% has served our country…The military is a family-owned business that we hand down from generation to generation. Not everyone can serve in the military, but we do have an obligation to this country to thank veterans for the freedom they fought for…We thank a teacher for our ability to read, but we can thank a veteran that we can read and write in English. We can thank veterans by supporting Workshops for Warriors so they can expand to other states. Everyone can serve the military by taking care of the people who are doing the job they can do or won’t do for whatever reason…”

The event closed with more entertainment from the American Bombshells while the guests whose bids won were notified and presented with their auction item.

During dinner, I asked the man sitting next to me why he supported WFW. Doug Davis, General Manager at Kearny Mesa Ford & KIA, said, “Workshops For Warriors is simply an amazing program that is helping Veterans make a living for the rest of their lives. All of us know when we have a skill in the work place, our individual self-esteem improves greatly, and we can go home to our families with a sense of accomplishment. Workshops teaches the manufacturing trade to our Veterans, and when they graduate with a welding or machinist certification, a job is waiting for them 100% of the time! That’s exactly what Workshops for Warriors does for our Veterans. I am lucky enough to support Workshops for Warriors through three channels:  personally, my dealership, Kearny Pearson Ford & KIA, and finally through the Ford Motor Company as Chairman of the San Diego Ford Dealers Ad Association Board in selecting recipients of charitable donations.”

Whether or not you have served in a branch of the military, you can help change the life of veterans and Wounded Warriors by support their training in manufacturing skills by donating to the Workshops for Warriors Capital Campaign.

MEPs are Essential to Rebuilding American Manufacturing Competitiveness

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Last month, President Trump submitted a “Skinny Budget” with the goal of removing some of the “fat” within Washington DC. Unfortunately, one of the programs eliminated in his budget is not “fat.” The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is the only federally funded national network dedicated to serving small and medium-sized U. S. manufacturers. The MEP program was re-authorized by both Houses of Congress by unanimous consent earlier in January when the MEP program went back to 1:1 cost matching. The reality is that the MEP network is essential to helping manufacturers be competitive in the global marketplace and rebuilding American manufacturing. Eliminating the MEP program seems contradictory to President Trump’s focus on manufacturing.

The MEP website states, “Since 1988, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) has worked to strengthen U.S. manufacturing. MEP is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a U.S. Department of Commerce agency…MEP is built on a national system of centers located in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. “Each center is a partnership between the federal government and a variety of public or private entities, including state, university, and nonprofit organizations. This diverse network, with nearly 600 service locations, has close to 1,300 field staff serving as trusted business advisors and technical experts to assist manufacturers in communities across the country.”

This public-private partnership provides a high return on investment to taxpayers. “For every one dollar of federal investment, the MEP national network generates $17.9 in new sales growth for manufacturers and $27.0 in new client investment. This translates into $2.3 billion in new sales annually. And, for every $1,501 of federal investment, MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job.”

The top challenges reported to MEP by manufacturers are:

  • Cost Reduction 70%
  • Growth 54%
  • Employee Recruitment 47%
  • Product Development 45%

In FY 2016, the MEP national network interacted with 25,445 manufacturers and achieved these results through their wide range of services:

  • $9.3 Billion New and Retained Sales
  • 86,602 New and Retained Jobs
  • $3.5 Billion New Client Investments
  • $1.4 Billion $1.4 Billion Cost Savings

I have long been aware of the work of the California MEP, California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC), headed up by Jim Watson, but when I visited Cincinnati, Ohio last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting with Scott Broughton, Director of the Advantage Kentucky Alliance (Kentucky’s  MEP), and David Linger, President & CEO of TechSolve, one of the Ohio MEP affiliates.

I contacted all three for input for this article, and Scott Broughton was the first to respond. He said, “AKA has generated over $88 million in impacts with 50 clients working with over 1,300 employees in the past 12 months alone. We are currently working with small manufacturers in Eastern Kentucky, who used to work in the coal industry to identify, vet, and implement change allowing them to work in non-coal industries and helping them to be sustainable in the future. These companies have worked with other entities with mixed results. AKA’s programs are centered on AKA facilitators mentoring and training employees, allowing them to be the driver of change with continued support. This allows the employees to ‘learn by doing’ with the support and assistance of AKA’s specialists. AKA’s average engagements are over 12 months with monthly interactions allowing for sustainable support, change, and implementation.”

He added, “For every federal dollar spent, it has resulted in $170K in impacts in Kentucky! Specific impacts in the past 12 months are below and that does not include the 762 new jobs created/retained:

  • $9.9 million in new sales
  • $21.6 million in retained sales
  • $10.8 million in cost savings
  • $40.3 million in investments made”

Broughton provided me with case studies for six clients, which are too lengthy to cite in detail in this article. Three of the six received training in Lean manufacturing through AKA, two were helped to find new markets, and two were helped with new product development. Highlights of the results are:

  • Skillcraft Sheetmetal, Inc. – “a reduction in labor equating $27,000 in 2014 alone”
  • Post Glover Resistors – ” 12% reduction unnecessary Labor”
  • Outdoor Venture Corporation – “Increased sales by $500,000 and increased cost savings by $1 million”
  • Cumberland Mine Service, Inc. – “Uncovered 17 potential industries/business opportunities and 21 potential future customers”
  • RT Welding & Fabrication, Inc. – “Uncovered 21 potential industries/business opportunities other than mining and identified 13 potential revenue streams”
  • Taper Roller Bearings – “$10 Million in retained sales, $200,000 in cost savings, and $20,000 in new product development”

David Linger responded, “The Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, located in Columbus, OH, provides technical services for small and medium-sized manufacturers to drive productivity, growth and global competitiveness; and can ultimately help Ohio’s manufacturers become more profitable and competitive. From October 2015 – September 2016, the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership served 439 Manufacturers resulting in new and retained sales of   $277,900,000, created and retained 2,399 jobs, facilitated cost savings of over $41,700,000, and created new investments of $132,600,000.”

He commented, “An often overseen benefit of the relationship of a MEP and their regional clients is the two-way information exchange. That is, the MEP receives constant Voice Of the Customer information from the regional clients throughout the year. This allows the MEP to proactively develop new solution packages that meet those needs,  needs that are often unique to small and midsized manufacturing firms. This feedback loop drives the MEP to be current with the latest technology or methods and be an ongoing subject matter expert to push this new know-how back out to the manufacturing community. A few great examples of this are the work MEP’s are doing in regards to Cyber Security as it relates to manufacturing, Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing, Data Analytics, and System Integration (Industrial Internet of Things, IIOT).”

Jim Watson responded, “Last year, CMTC was awarded a five-year agreement to be the California MEP. In 2016 CMTC served 1,065 small and medium-sized manufacturers, creating or retaining 8,575 high paying jobs statewide resulting in $169 million in cost savings, $647 million in total sales, and $305 million in total investment. For every manufacturing job, there are 3-4 full-time jobs created elsewhere in the United States to support manufacturers. Manufacturing is critical to the California economy, employing more than 1.2 million workers at more than 39,000 companies.”

He added, “CMTC’s services provide innovation, growth, technology and operational solutions that foster profitable growth for small manufacturers impacting personal income, tax revenues and the California economy. A study by the LAEDC Institute for Applied Economics indicated that the annual economic contribution from California MEP projects with customers surveyed in 2014 was an estimated $1.8 billion to California’s GDP and more than $450 million in federal, state and local tax revenues. The California MEP program is a valuable partner for manufacturers and generates a significant dividend for the State of California.”

There were four client case studies mentioned in their 2016 end of year report, which I have briefly summarized below:

Amflex Plastics – a woman-owned company making polyolefin co-polymer formulated plastic hoses and spiral hose equipment. Amflex needed help getting prepared to get their ISO 9001:2008 certification to retain current business and get new customers. After CMTC coaching, they passed their audit and got their certification, resulting in $675,000 in projected increased sales, $300,000 in retained sales, three new jobs, 10 jobs retained, and $209,000 in cost savings.

Summertree Interiors is a minority owned business that builds finely crafted baby and children’s furniture. The company needed help reducing lead times and improving on-time delivery. CMTC provided them with Lean manufacturing training, which resulted in:

  • $400,000 in increased sales
  • 1,000,000 in retained sales
  • 6 jobs created
  • 12 jobs retained
  • $250,000 in cost savings
  • $115,000 in capital investments

Space Systems Loral is a manufacturer of communications satellites and satellite systems. Because former customers are now making their own satellites, “SSL needed programs to reduce costs and lead times as well as provide an in-house team to lead and implement their continuous improvement philosophy. CMTC provided Yellow Belt Lean training and a “Train the Trainer” program, which resulted in $7,500,000 in retained sales, 17 jobs retained, $1,861,000 of cost savings, and $500,000 in capital investment.

OHIO Design is a builder of custom, made-to-order, modern furniture and interiors. The company needed help with their manufacturing processes, finding qualified workers, and access to capital. CEO coaching helped OHIO to understand and implement business metrics a cost structure to track their manufacturing expenses, and a continuous improvement program to focus on solutions to fix problems. As a result, they experienced $500,000 in increased sales, retained 7 jobs, achieved $150,000 in cost savings, and made $55,999 in capital investment.

One of the companies I represent as a manufacturers’ sales rep has been a repeat client of CMTC. President Steve Cozzetto of Century Rubber Company wrote me, “As the business climate has become more demanding, CMTC has been instrumental in providing the training that we need to remain competitive. In the past 10 years, we have used their resources and expertise to develop our Lean Manufacturing procedures, to upgrade our marketing methods, and most recently to take our quality program from ISO: 9001 and prepare us for our AS9100D certification which should occur this year. As a small company, the variety of programs offered by CMTC makes it possible to accomplish goals that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.”

These success stories illustrate why the nationwide Manufacturing Extension Partnership network is essential to the growth of the United States economy. When the President submits his budget, it is the first step in the long process that results in a federal budget. No President’s budget ever gets approved without substantial amendment by Congress, and Congress has the final say on governmental spending. To support the MEP program, you should contact your Congressional Representative to urge them to keep funding for the MEP program in the federal budget.