Archive for the ‘Technology’ 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.

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.

North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Dakota Focuses on Accelerating Growth of Emerging Companies

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The last week of April, I visited the Fargo, North Dakota region as the guest of the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Economic Development & Finance Division, which is charged with coordinating the state’s economic development resources to attract, retain and expand wealth. My host was Paul Lucy, former director of the Economic Development & Finance Division, and we visited several companies and met with heads of organizations working to accelerate the growth of emerging companies and retain successful existing companies.

For many people, the only impression they have of Fargo is based on the movie and subsequent TV series of the same name. I never saw the movie and haven’t watched the TV series, but have a cousin in Fargo who is always bragging about what is happening, especially what celerity is coming to perform. I learned that the Red River is the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, and about 230,000 people live in the greater Fargo/Moorhead region. It has one private and two public four-year universities, along with several community, technical, and business schools. With nearly 30,000 college students, it is a college town that rivals any in the nation.

As we began our first day of appointments, Paul said, “There are development projects in motion that have  a vision of making downtown Fargo a more vibrant place to live and work, which could lessen urban sprawl and result in more efficient investment in city infrastructure and services. An added bonus would be the preservation of more of North Dakota’s fertile farmland for agriculture production.”

Our first appointment was a breakfast meeting at Emerging Prairie, a co-working space in downtown Fargo. We met with Greg Tehven, Executive Director of Emerging Prairie. He said he grew up on a farm and is a 5th generation North Dakotan. When he was attending the University of Minnesota, he remembers that one of his professors recommended that North Dakota be turned back to the prairie because from 1930 – 2000 there was a “brain drain,” when the best and brightest left the state.

Greg said, “I never intended to go back to North Dakota when I graduated, but while I was an undergrad at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in 2003, I co-founded Students Today, Leaders Forever. After graduating, I joined the Kilbourne Group and worked on a variety of projects to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship in downtown Fargo.

He explained, “I burned out and worked my way around the world in 2010. I had a Rotary Ambassador scholarship and got accepted to the University of Manchester to study social change in 2011. I had a year before I started school, so I worked for Doug Burgum for a year and discovered “urbanism.” When I gave a TEDx Talk in Minneapolis, I made a conscious choice that instead of studying social change, I wanted to practice social change.”

He said, “Three of my friends and I founded Emerging Prairie in 2013 to turn Fargo into a vibrant startup community. Our mission is to connect and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fargo-Moorhead. We do so by operating a wide variety of events and initiatives, such as the Drone Focus Monthly, the Prairie Den co-working and event space Hackathon, Meetup groups, and the Intern Experience. We have TEDx Fargo, an independently organized TED event, and 1 Million Cups Fargo, the largest and most active 1 Million Cups program in the country.

We support tech-based entrepreneurs. We are not very involved with manufacturing – most of our entrepreneurs are in software. We provide entrepreneurs: (1) a founders-only retreat (2) a platform to share their work and investment opportunities, and (3) access to consultants. I believe in transfer of information, but not a formal mentor relationship. We have to make it a “cool” climate for college students. We host midnight brunches and do a lot of weird and strange things. We have 144 members of our co-working space, modeled like a student union. We have no desire to maximize profits, but to maximize impact. Millennials are wired to maximize impact rather than maximize profits.”

He expanded, “We host the Ted Ex Fargo and will have about 2,000 people at the event this summer where the CEO of the Kauffman Foundation will speak. We host an Ecommerce conference in Moorhead. We support the drone industry and run a drone conference that started two years ago with 240 attendees the first year and 330 the second year. We expect about 600 people this year on May 31st. We host different other events and also operate an online publication that highlights the regions entrepreneurs and innovators that are turning Fargo into a flourishing tech hub. In 2016, we became a 501(c) 3 non-profit.”

Our next visit put what Greg has said into perspective. We visited the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC) where we met with James Gartin, President, Mark Vaux, Executive V.P, Business Development, and Lisa Gulland Nelson, V. P., Marketing and Public Relations. Mr. Gartin said, “Our goal is to be a key catalyst for business growth and prosperity for the region. As far back as five years ago, we felt that we had a difficult situation because of our workforce and ability to attract new companies with our extremely low unemployment rate that is currently3.4%. Every time we get a RFQ, the first thing we get asked is:  Do you have enough employees? We made a commitment early on that we weren’t going to take away employees from our existing employers. While we still work to attract companies to our region, we realized that if we need to work with our two universities to change the philosophy from ‘research for papers’ to ‘research for commercialization’ to facilitate start-up companies.”

He explained, “We have funded Emerging Prairie since its inception and are helping them to support entrepreneurism. We attend and support 1 Million Cups, where the entrepreneurial community meets with K-12 superintendants, organizes manufacturing tours for high schoolers, and recruits companies to our community.

He added, “Governor Doug Burgum’s son, Joe Burgum, is committed to making Fargo the best place on earth to live. He founded Folkways that is a community-building collective dedicated to supporting the region’s culture creators. He created the Red River Market,  successfully lobbied to bring the ride-sharing service Uber to North Dakota, and puts on a course to help entrepreneurs launch local businesses.”

He said, “At North Dakota State University’s Research and Technology Park, there is great collaboration to make it a leader in developing Intellectual Property. Entrepreneur magazine ranked Fargo in the top 10 for entrepreneurism. We have a number of ‘0-60’ speed companies in operation, and a lot more that are on the cusp. The most important thing is that our senior leaders are seeing a difference in the growth of business. We modeled our approach after Brad Feld’s book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, based on Boulder, Colorado. The start-up phase is ten years, and we are only 4-5 years into the program. Cities can’t push entrepreneurism. You can’t make people start companies, but you can help to build the ecosystem.”

The supplemental material I was provided revealed that the costs of doing business in North Dakota are around 15 percent less than the national average because of the following:

* Research and development tax credits

* Corporate income tax exemption

* Property tax exemptions for new or improved buildings

* No personal property or gross receipts taxes

* No sales tax on eligible services, manufacturing or computer/ telecommunications equipment

* Seed and angel capital investment tax credits

* Early-stage financing resources

* State-sponsored workforce training grants

The GFMEDC website states, “Some of our largest employers include divisional, regional, national and global headquarters & facilities for Microsoft Business Solutions, Bobcat Co., John Deere Electronic Solutions, Border States Electric Supply, RDO Equipment Co., Tech Mahindra, Titan Machinery, Nokia HERE and American Crystal Sugar.” The Microsoft campus came about when Great Plains Software, Inc. was acquired in 2001. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant manufacturing industry in Fargo, as the list of top manufacturers includes farm and construction equipment, power equipment, windows/doors, metal fabrication, steel, and composites.

We also discussed the challenges of solving the skills gap and attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers. Mr. Gartin said, “Tip Strategies out of Austin, TX did an economic development strategy study for us on how to grow economy and our workforce. We have funded the plan and are implementing it. We have some of the most unique workforce strategies in the country. Industry and education mesh. We have a very robust manufacturing Day that we handle. We have funded a Maker Space in Moorhead and helped NDSU create a Maker Space, job shadowing and internships. We have a Tri-College University consortium. Students can take classes and get credit at any of the colleges and pay the same rate. Last year, the two-year technical schools collaborated so that students can take classes at any one for the same rate.”

Tri-College University is a unique consortium that allows students enrolled at any one of its five member institutions to take courses at the others at no extra charge, and to apply the credits toward graduation requirements at the home campus. The five member colleges are:

  • Concordia College – Moorhead
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • North Dakota State University – Fargo
  • Minnesota State Community & Technical College – Moorhead
  • North Dakota State College of Science – Wahpeton & Fargo

When I mentioned The Playbook for Teens program I have written about that mentors middle school girls to get them interested in STEM careers, he said, “We think it needs to start in elementary school in the second or third grade when students are starting to learn math. At NDSU, there is an Engineers in the Classroom program where engineering students work in classrooms to teach math. They matched first and second graders with an engineering student to work with them on project based learning. It was tested in an 8-week program, and every student jumped up two levels. This year, there is an engineering student in every classroom, and the students are about to be tested. This could be the opportunity to show that this works, so that we can apply for a Pew grant to fund the program.”

Mark Vaux said, “Our business development program is based on attraction, business retention, and expansion. We visit at least 150 companies on an annual basis looking for opportunities and challenges, so we can help them through the challenges and barriers to growth and recommend actions to take. If companies are buying new equipment or adding workers, there are state programs that will help them.”

Lisa Gulland Nelson described some of the Workforce programs they have:

  • Operation Intern – primary sector business are eligible for matching funds of up to $30,000 per legislative biennium or $3,000 per intern for hiring North Dakota college students or high school juniors or seniors.
  • New Jobs Training Program – matching grants to assist qualified North Dakota employers in training or upgrading their employees’ skills.

Overall, I was impressed with North Dakota’s policies to provide a favorable business climate for its businesses and wish that California would adopt some of these same policies. The Fargo region is smart to focus on emerging businesses to retain their college graduates and keep them from going to other states for jobs. My next article will cover the incubator at the NDSU Research & Technology Park.

Advanced Technologies being developed at Carlsbad Gateway Center

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

For the last couple of years, I have been the guest of several economic and Chamber of Commerce organizations to visit their region to tour manufacturing plants and write articles about their region’s industries, but two weeks ago, I was invited to visit an industrial park right in my back yard ? the Carlsbad Gateway Center, a Makers’ place with over 80 businesses in a 16.5 acres business park (Carlsbad is 25 miles north of the City of San Diego).

Courtney Rose of Olive PR introduced me to Toni Adamopoulos, Property Mgr. of the business park. She said, “The tenant mix includes innovation, food production, health and wellness, new technology, in addition to standard and warehouse uses. The park’s small spaces, affordable rents, flexible zoning, and wide array of  allowed permitting makes it a perfect location for small, start up, and incubator businesses to get started on their road to success in a welcoming park-like setting. Besides technology companies, the zoning permits storefront businesses such as a bakery, coffee shop, craft beer, and Kombucha beverage.”

We first visited Emcraft Systems founded by Kent Meyer and colleagues in Moscow, Russia in 2012. Kent said, “We started the company six years ago to design, build, sell, and support ARM Cortex-A and Cortex-M System-On-Modules (SOMs), which are micro controller systems programmed with Linux.” Emcraft is a California LLC headquartered in Carlsbad, and with an engineering office in Moscow, near Moscow State University. Emcraft partners met in Silicon Valley in 1998 while working on a Posix real-time operating system, and the relationship has lasted across several companies and cities. Kent continued, “We have about 6,000 customers in 36 countries, all using our system on modules or Linux/uClinux kits. All of our manufacturing is done in the U.S. We use independent contractors instead of having employees, and we form teams to handle different projects for customers.”

He explained, “We are working to highly automate the effort of embedding Linux and ARM microcontrollers for the coming wave of intelligent systems. Our customers use our system on modules to speed their time to market, and we are optimizing the design and manufacturing processes to meet the pricing needs of the market. We have found a way to be very productive with our team of 20 local and remotely cooperating engineering contractors, with our main office and manufacturing based in the US.”

In addition to Emcraft Systems, Kent is involved in local STEAM education. He has worked with local schools and the Carlsbad Education Foundation (CEF) to teach robotics and programming to youth. CEF is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization that provides private support for public education programs throughout the Carlsbad Unified School District. The Foundation is also located in the Carlsbad Gateway Center.

We got into a discussion about attracting the next generation of engineers that is too long to cover in this article, but Meyer called the next generation the “Minecraft” generation because of the technological skills and interest learned through the online collaboration and building in that game. He started as a robotics coach over six years ago when his own kids were doing LEGO robotics with the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for fourth to sixth graders, which was funded by the Carlsbad Ed Foundation. After doing that, he said, “We came up with our own little curriculum where the robotics could be used to teach interested kids in a very productive way, while also trying to find entrepreneurial ways to improve the ratio of students to technology to get as close to a one-to-one ratio with tech as possible.”

He said that they recently developed an “IoT Educational Platform” using Chromebooks, Linux, MQTT and Node-Red to see what kids might come up with when taught IoT concepts. The effort culminated in a presentation to the Carnegie Mellon SATURN conference in San Diego, where the kids showed a highly interactive MQTT platform of over 60 nodes all communicating and collaborating (robots, drones, lights, toys, etc) and connected to Skype and email over Node-Red. The effort won Kent and the team the distinction of “2016 Top Embedded Innovator” by Embedded Computing Design magazine. Click on this link to read the interview with Mr. Meyer after the award.

Next we met with Dr. Robert Boock, CEO/CTO and Co-Founder, of Glucovation. Dr. Boock previously served as the Senior Technical Director of Research and Development at Dexcom where he was responsible for managing the research and development of Dexcom’s CGM membranes and biotechnologies. He was part of the group that developed materials for Dexcom’s SEVEN PLUS. He was a co-inventor of G4 PLATINUM sensor and was a key player in its development and commercialization. He holds more than 44 patents and over 100 pending patents as well as having more than 25 peer reviewed journal articles.

Dr. Boock said, “Our company was formed to develop the most advanced Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) that will be affordable to those desiring to monitor their diabetes.” I have several partners, and we are now up to 12 people. They will realize development and work on licensing Agreements. We have signed a deal with a Chinese company and are negotiating a deal with another Chinese company.

He explained, “We are creating a technology that doesn’t require finger sticking. We are trying to develop a simpler but just as accurate method that doesn’t require any action by the user. We want to penetrate the Type II market, which is reaching epidemic proportions. Our product will prevent its escalation. We think that we will have the right product at the right time. Type I is 2% of the population, and Type II has escalated to an estimated 13% of the population. We would rather increase the breadth of our reach rather than make more profit. Outside the U.S., this epidemic of diabetes has the potential to bankrupt countries.”

He continued, “Dexcom and Medtronic are the two biggest players in the continuous monitoring field, which takes a reading every five minutes. They have only penetrated 15% of the Type I population. The future of Type I treatment will be the artificial pancreas (sensors within a pump).

He added, “We can also measure lactate which is a precursor to septic shock, and we could also monitor burning of ketones to know if a person is burning fat when exercising. We are developing a suite of sensors that will monitor five to six of the active metabolites.”

Finally, he said, “We are doing development in cooperation with our licensees, but we are the owner of the core technology. We should be moving into the Chinese market in 2018. The U. S. is more difficult because there is a PMA one-year review cycle after clinical trials, but in China it is only a six-month review cycle. We are doing trials in China, but haven’t started in the U. S. yet.”

Since I am aware of how long it takes to develop any biotech or medical device product before it finally gets to market, I found his last comment very apropos:  “We don’t do it for the money; it’s a calling.”

Our last meeting was with Martin Bouliane, founder and President of R&3D Engineering. He is a mechanical engineer who started his career in 1993 involved in product development. He worked with Cirque du Soleil for a while as a product designer. He was previously the owner of R&3D Engineering in Canada, where the company was primarily focused on consumer product design from 2000-2007. He moved from Quebec, Canada to California in 2007.

Bouliane said, “After moving to California, I worked for two medical device companies before re-launching R&3D Engineering as a U.S. company in 2012. The company was originally focused on medical device design, but some of my customers turned to me to help them get into production. I started working with robots that they purchased from Fanuc. A team from Fanuc visited our company and invited me to become an authorized Fanuc robot integrator. We now focus on custom robotic automation design and fabrication for about 75% of our business, and we have grown to a dozen employees.”

He added, “One of our biggest problems is finding skilled people as we need people who can make things work. We have a customer who makes desalination filters, and we started working with them two years ago and have designed a robot system to move the filters, which were heavy for workers to move around. Some of our local customers have been in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry for high volume production of disposables. We are creating a system for one company that dispenses oil, and are building machines to produce the blister pack for the oil.”

He explained, “One of the big reasons for advances in automation is that machine vision has become more and more advanced, so we can program the robots to do inline inspection. We also design and build the peripheral systems to surround the robots. The robot might be only 10% of the system, and we can configure the robot to do multiple tasks. More and more companies are benefiting from integrating robotics and automation into their manufacturing operations.”

This interview was eye opening to me because I had seen very little automation or use of robotics in local companies with which I do business. The main reason is that 97% of San Diego County Advanced Manufacturing businesses are companies with fewer than 50 employees. Another reason is that I do not do business with biotech companies as they do not buy the type of fabrication services I represent. I recruited Mr. Bouliane to speak at our upcoming March Tech San Diego Operations Roundtable event on the subject of the advances in robots, automation, Artificial Intelligence, and machine vision. He will also discuss the future of automation and robotics and give his opinion on whether jobs will be lost or created. There is a wide divergence of opinions on the answer to this question, so it will be interesting to hear his opinion.

CONNECT’S MIP Awards range from Pure Fun to Life-Saving

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

On December 1st, the winners of the 2016 CONNECT Most Innovative New Product Awards were announced at the 29th annual dinner event held at the Hyatt Regency Aventine in La Jolla.

CONNECT is a premier innovation company accelerator in San Diego that helps start up entrepreneurial teams become great companies in the technology and life sciences sectors by providing access to the people, capital, and technology resources they need to succeed. CONNECT has assisted in the formation and development of more than 3,000 companies since 1985. Lead sponsors for the event were Cubic Corporation, and JP Morgan Chase & Company.  Tom West, San Diego Executive Director & Regional Manager of JP Morgan Chase, presented CEO Greg McKee with a check for $200,000 to support CONNECT.

CONNECT CEO Greg McKee said in part, “This event gives us an occasion to celebrate what we do best in San Diego ? innovate. From genomics to robotics, Bluetech to biotech, and data analytics to medical devices the breadth of our innovation economy is staggering. In fact, it’s a quarter of our GDP. You, as innovators, matter. And, I would bet, that many of the products we see here tonight will have an equally profound impact. For over thirty years CONNECT has been, and continues to be, an organization driven by discovery, innovation, economic empowerment, and the opportunity to change the world. But, changing the world isn’t always about a single sweeping gesture or one grand moment, it’s hard work, it’s a blend of small insights and little steps forward, it’s about sharing discoveries and thriving on others’ inspiration.”

There were a record 111 entrants this year across the ten categories listed below. To be eligible, the product must have been first introduced after January 1, 2014, never been selected as a MIP finalist, and generated revenue from sales (except for free mobile apps and companies submitting for the Life Science Products – Clinical Stage category). Each semi-finalist demonstrated their products in front of an expert judging panel in early October, from which 30 were selected as finalists. The winners and other finalists were:

Bluetech:  Water Pigeon – a fast, simple, secure way to deliver automated metering infrastructure (AMI) capability without replacing existing water meters or building wireless networks. Water Pigeon is a graduate of CONNECT’s Springboard program and a resident of EvoNexus.

After winning the award, CEO/CoFounder Clay Melugin said, “The MIP award from Connect is an outstanding honor to win. With so many great startup companies in San Diego in all categories, being recognized for Innovation delivers a boost to our team as we continue to push forward on goals that improve the world. Innovation is clearly not dead in the US and we want the world to see how innovation emboldens a supportive city like San Diego.

The outreach from others after the award has been amazing. It is very inspiring when people take time to understand our mission and offer to help us continue the journey both as investors and people who simple want to help. This only happens in a vibrant technology community like San Diego where startups encourage and help each other move forward towards success.”

Other Finalists:

Diver6a life-saving diver tracking system used to wireless supervise divers position and monitor their vital information provides services and technology for government and industry with extensive experience and capabilities supporting complex scientific and maritime operations.

Planck Aerosystemsits flagship drone brings high performance, autonomous unmanned aerial systems to moving vessels previously only possible from manned helicopters.

Cleantech, Sustainability, and Energy:  Camston Wrather LLC – recovers gold, precious metals, and polymers from electronic waste using proprietary patents and green chemistry.

Other Finalists:

  • Measurabl – an all-in-one commercial real estate energy and sustainability management software.
  • SDG&E – a regulated public utility that invented the Renewable Meter Adapter (RMA) as an alternative for private solar rooftop customers to avoid costly panel upgrades.

Defense, Transportation, and Cybersecurity:  Cubic Corporationdesigns, integrates and operates systems, products and services that increase situational awareness for customers in the transportation and defense industries.

Mike Twyman, President of Cubic Mission Solutions, said, “Cubic is honored to receive the Most Innovative Product (MIP) award from CONNECT in the Defense, Transportation and Cybersecurity category for our inflatable satellite communication system. Cubic GATR’s industry-leading inflatable satellite antenna is changing the satellite communications industry and receiving innovation awards, such as the MIP from CONNECT, validates the push for innovation at Cubic. We look forward to continuing our support of CONNECT and fostering innovation in San Diego region.

Other Finalists:

  • B&B Technologies LP – developer of the DAMPS advanced magnetic suspension/propulsion shock mitigation technology R&D for the military, medical and professional/commercial markets.
  • Space Microthe Micro-STAR-200M is a space qualified sensor observing start and delivering precision pointing information to its host spacecraft.

Information Communications Technologies: Aira develops remote assistive technology and services that bring greater mobility and independence to blind and low-vision people in daily living by connecting them to a network of certified remote agents via the blind user’s wearable smart device.

The impact of winning the CONNECT Most Innovative Product (MIP) Award certainly marks an important milestone at Aira, including our place as a recognized technological innovator in the San Diego region” said CEO Suman Kanuganti. “We believe that San Diego, because of its supportive and engaging technological environment, is truly the best community for startups like Aira, and we thank CONNECT for the work they do to grow the region, and of our peers who continue to inspire and challenge us to be more competitive, smarter, and committed to thrive and succeed here in San Diego. Equally important, Aira’s winning of the MIP Award allows further light to be shed on the often-forgotten challenges that people with vision loss face on a daily basis in functioning in a sighted world, and how the power of technology and innovation can play a major role in alleviating these challenges.”

Other Finalists:

  • Creative Electron – the TruView Cube is an innovative x-ray machine used to count the number of semiconductors without the need to open protective cases.
  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. – The SnapdragonTM 820 processor represents a rare feet in the engineering and design of semiconductors, in which every major IP block in the system is a new and custom design.

Life Science Diagnostics and Research Tools:  Echo Laboratories Inc. – developed the Revolve, a new hybrid microscope that easily transforms between upright and inverted configurations, merging the capabilities of two instruments into one. Echo Laboratories graduated from CONNECT’s Springboard program two years ago.

CEO/Founder Eugene Cho said, “Winning the event was a big achievement for us. Just two years ago we were at the same event, sitting in the audience as Springboard graduates. It was incredible validation to our team of how far we’ve come since then.”

Other Finalists:

  • DermTech – a non-invasive gene expression platform that works with samples collected using DermTech’s Adhesive Skin Biopsy Kit to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.
  • NanoCellect Biomedical– the WOLF Cell Sorter is the new benchmark for access and performance to make flow cytometry and cell sorting technology more affordable and accessible for life science researchers to perform cellular analysis, develop molecular diagnostics, and improve personalized medicine.

Medical Devices:  Onciomed, Inc.the Gastric Vest System™ (GVS) is a revolutionary, minimally invasive implantable device to treat obesity and diabetes.

Other Finalists:

  • Innovative Trauma Care – created the ITClamp Hemorrhage Control System which is designed to address massive hemorrhage – a leading cause of death in traumatic injury – by controlling critical bleeding in seconds.
  • 11Health – a connected medical device company, where all patented devices use Bluetooth® wireless technology to send secure real-time data to mobile devices, including smart phones, tablets and watches.

Pharmaceutical Drugs and Biologic Therapies:  ACADIA Pharmaceuticals, Inc. – NUPLAZID is the first FDA-approved treatment for hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease psychosis.

Bob Mischler, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development said, “We’re honored that NUPLAZID was chosen as the winner of the Pharmaceutical Drugs and Biologic Therapies category. Even more importantly, we are gratified that this innovative treatment offers renewed hope to patients with Parkinson’s disease psychosis, a debilitating condition that affects around 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease, and the loved ones who care for them.”

Other Finalists:

  • Ardea Biosciences– Zurampic is the first new oral medication for treatment of gout approved by the FDA in 60 years.
  • GlyConMedics LLC – Pre-biotic (OZ101) tables advance the treatment for type 2 diabetes by providing an affordable and effective long-term ADD-ON treatment to existing SU therapies to improve glucose control, educe hypoglycemia and weight gain.

Robotics and Unmanned Vehicles:  Clever Pet – a connected game console that intelligently trains and engages dogs using their normal daily food automatically, whether their humans are home or not. CleverPet is a resident of EvoNexus.

We were honored to receive CONNECT’s Most Innovative Product award in our category,” commented Co-founder Leo Trottier. “We could not have built CleverPet without the support of the San Diego community and organizations like Connect. We see this award as validating a business and idea that when we started felt at best a pipe dream.”

Other Finalists:

  • NXT Robotics – provides service robots to support increased security monitoring and alerting requirements.
  • Robolink – aims to make STEM education accessible, engaging and fun for children and hobbyists by producing robotics educations kits and providing educational lessons that teach core principles of engineering and programming.

Software, Digital Media, and Mobile Apps:  Guru – an app that features beacon-enabled technology that interacts with smartphones to create digital experiences for museums, aquariums and zoos. Guru is also a CONNECT Springboard graduate and a resident of EvoNexus.

Hilary Srole, Project Manager said, Entrepreneurship is hard, so receiving recognition like this from CONNECT is awesome. Winning gave us a great sense of validation. Not only for us, but for the San Diego Museum of Art for taking a chance with us. It really feels good to show that their faith in us wasn’t misplaced. This whole process has been rewarding. Springboard’s mentorship has helped us avoid some of the pitfalls commonly associated with start-ups and has helped us to move in the right direction faster.”

Other Finalists:

  • Nanome, Inc. – developed the world’s first immersive and scientifically accurate molecular modeling tool in Virtual Reality.
  • South Doctors, Inc. – the leading platform that connects patients from around the world with the best doctors and facilities in Mexico.

Sport and Active Lifestyle Technologies:  Bixpy LLCthe world’s first portable and modular personal water propulsion device that runs on lithium batteries for snorkelers and scuba divers, with attachments available to motorize kayaks and standup paddle boards.

Founder/CEO Houman Nikmanesh, said, “We were absolutely humbled by our selection as a finalist for the MIP Awards by Connect. We were among some brilliant people, amazing products, and innovative ideas. So when we won, we were absolutely beyond ourselves. It has taken us more than two years to develop the Bixpy Jets and we have worked tirelessly on a project that at times seemed like a pipe dream. Winning such a prestigious award validates our vision and paves the way forward for us. We’re proud and attribute much of our success in our product development to being in San Diego. Aside from being the perfect hub for an outdoor lifestyle company, the San Diego startup and innovation community has been instrumental to our drive and success.

Other Finalists:

  • ElliptiGO Inc.the world’s first elliptical bicycle, combining the best of running, cycling, and the Elliptical trainer for a fun and effective way to exercise outdoors.
  • FlyDivethe X-BOARD connects to a personal watercraft for hydro jet propulsion, empowering riders to hover and fly above the water. It is the most advanced hydro flight system designed and engineered to support both beginners and professional riders.

It was a very exciting night for me because I had been one of Bixpy’s mentors in the CONNECT Springboard program this year. Bixpy graduated in July, and in only four short months, they conducted a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, were selected as a finalist, and won this prestigious award.

CONNECT has a built an unbeatable roster of over 500 highly-qualified individuals to serve as Springboard Entrepreneurs-In-Residence and Mentors who volunteer their time as mentors to help entrepreneurs develop successful companies. I look forward to mentoring more companies in the future.

 

Cincinnati’s Cintrifuse Connects Entrepreneurs, Big Companies and Tech Funds

Monday, December 12th, 2016

During my visit to Cincinnati earlier this month, I had to pleasure of meeting key people from Cintrifuse and a few of the regional accelerators. The website says Cintrifuse is “Where Dreamers, Disruptors and Doers Connect” because “the world needs innovation. Entrepreneurs, BigCos and Tech Funds need each other. An active network ensures they can connect. And at the heart of that network is Cintrifuse.”

At Cintrifuse, I met with Wendy Lea, who has been CEO since 2014, and Eric Weissmann, Director of Marketing. Ms. Lea is “an accomplished Silicon Valley executive with deep experience in marketing, sales, and customer experience.” Ms. Lea serves on several boards, including Corporate Visions (San Francisco) and Xyleme (Boulder) as well as still being the executive chair of Get Satisfaction (San Francisco.)

Ms. Lea said, “Cintrifuse was born to answer this question: What will it take to create a thriving startup ecosystem in Cincinnati? Cintrifuse is a not-for-profit public/private partnership that exists to build a sustainable tech-based economy for the Greater Cincinnati region. Our purpose is to advocate for entrepreneurs leading high-growth tech startups– attracting, inspiring, and supporting them on their journey. The goal of Cintrifuse is to lower starting costs of business, especially businesses with the potential for high growth and that are disruptive technology. The Cincinnati Business Committee wanted to see how they could be relevant and formed Cintrifuse in partnership with the City of Cincinnati and EY. They wanted their kids to be able to come back to Cincinnati. The Cintrifuse Syndicate Fund is at $57 million and invests in VC firms outside of the region with the understanding they (VCs) create a regional engagement plan. There’s no stipulation that they invest in Cincinnati startups, but just be involved in the ecosystem. This includes reviewing deals, participating in events, and meeting our Limited Partners (LPs) most of whom they would love to meet with anyway – Procter & Gamble, Kroger, the University of Cincinnati, etc.”

She said, “We own and manage a 38,000 sq. ft. building in the economic area known as “Over the Rhine.” We got the building mortgage free, but put $17 million into improving the building. We opened in 2012. We provide services to 285 members companies – advisory services (such as mentoring and office hours), connections to talent, funding, and customers, as well as operating co-working space in downtown Cincinnati. We are part accelerator, part incubator, and part co-working space to move a company to the next ‘Lily pad’.

Ms. Lea added, ” The ‘headroom’ at Cintrifuse is wide. There is a strong appetite for new technology, new ideas, and disruption. Cintrifuse is a census taker – 300 startups are on our database across industries. We have brought is $160 million into the region for their startups, and we give them lots of exposure to VCs. One of our success stories is Everything But the House, which started in Cincinnati. They just raised $41 million, and Cintrifuse made the introduction to their investors.”

She explained, “Cincinnati has more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere else outside of San Francisco Bay area, so we created a Customer Connections program to share information between large companies and small companies. Our Customer connections program is taking 15 startups to Israel to present “innovation briefs.”

She would like to see Cintrifuse expand all over the world similar to TechStars in Boulder, CO with which she was involved when she lived in Boulder. She said, “Tech Star is the largest global network in the world with 28 centers, and their graduates have created 800 companies. Cintrifuse hosted their   reunion of graduates called FounderCon in the fall of 2016.”

The next day, I met Jordan Vogel, now V. P. of Talent Initiatives with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, who worked for Cintrifuse for three years as director of the entrepreneurial ecosystem., He gave me more background information on Cintrifuse, saying, “It was created by Cincinnati Business Committee, composed of the top 30 CEOs in region and  the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, composed of about 100 CEOs of somewhat smaller companies. When Chiquita left, the leaders became concerned and asked “What does the future look like? What should it be? They decided they needed to promote the next P&Gs of the world. Entrepreneurship was the key. They commissioned McKinsey & Company to conduct a comprehensive study on what would make the Greater Cincinnati region more attractive to startup entrepreneurs and outside investment. The study revealed the region’s strengths and gaps. Cintrifuse was formed to leverage the strengths and fill in the gaps. There are four universities in the region, but there was no path to commercializing technologies being developed”.

He added, “Funding was needed, so they created a fund of funds. They raised $78 of which $57 million went into a syndicate fund. To be part of the syndicate, Venture Capitalists had to commit to take a look at startups and be committed to engage with two to four trips per year to the region to meet with entrepreneurs. The purpose was to create a food chain.”

According to its StartupCincy Resources page, “Cincinnati lays claim to one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems between the coasts.” Home to The Brandery, one of the nation’s Top 10 accelerators; HCDC, the #1 incubator in the State of Ohio; CincyTech, one of the Midwest’s leading seed-stage investors; Queen City Angels, a private, seed-stage venture capital investor ranked #2 in the nation; four universities committed to innovation; and now the country’s only faith-based accelerator – there is a ton of innovation activity in this town!”

The Cintrifuse webpage lists the following accelerators as collaborative partners:

  • ArtWorks CO.STARTERS (formerly SpringBoard) “is a nine-week business development program that helps aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs examine assumptions and turn business ideas into action.”
  • Bad Girl Ventures “is an educational and micro-finance organization dedicated to inspiring and supporting women entrepreneurs in all the key elements of their business.”
  • The Brandery “is a seed stage startup accelerator ranked as one of the top programs in the United States. It runs a 4-month program in Cincinnati, Ohio, focused on turning your great idea into a successful brand driven startup.”
  • First Batch ”It is a five-month accelerator that is the first business accelerator in the nation to focus on scaling physical product companies using local manufacturing. Cincinnati’s long history as a center for consumer products, branding, and manufacturing make it THE place for growing a business creating and selling tangible goods.”
  • MORTAR was started by three minority community members in the downtown area called “Over the Rhine.” “It is called ‘Mortar’ because people are the mortar between the bricks of the buildings and the founders believe that the neighborhood’s residents have the potential to create booming enterprises – just footsteps from their homes.”
  • Minority Business Accelerator – “its mission is to help accelerate the development of sizable minority business enterprises and to strengthen and expand the regional minority entrepreneurial community. It works with companies under $1 million in revenue to connect them with large companies who want to diversify their supply chain.”
  • Ocean is a faith-based “accelerator for startup growth by focusing on the purpose that drives founders…and their companies.”
  • UpTech “is designed to attract and accelerate entrepreneurs who have the next big idea to make the world a better place. Its mission is to create an informatics industry in Northern Kentucky. It is especially well suited to support entrepreneurs who benefit from our partnership with the NKU College of Informatics.”

It lists the following incubators in the Cincinnati region, which also collaborate with Cintrifuse:

  • bioLOGIC is a life sciences incubator.
  • Hamilton Mill “is a Southwestern Ohio small business incubator for green, clean, water, digital and advanced manufacturing technologies. Conveniently located between Cincinnati and Dayton in the original pioneer town of Hamilton, OH.”
  • Hamilton County Development Center (HCDC) “is a nationally recognized startup incubator in Southwest Ohio that helps entrepreneurs launch successful innovative businesses. It just spun off an accelerator called Pipeline for water product development.”
  • The Northern Kentucky ezone (NKY ezone) – “It works collaboratively with several organizations that provide funding assistance to fast-growth, high-tech companies. Its team will work with you in assembling the necessary information, plans, and presentations to apply for these opportunities.”

Over dinner at Cintrifuse, I met with the heads of three of the accelerators, Matt Anthony and John Spencer with First Batch and JB Woodruff with Uptech. Two entrepreneurs also joined us for dinner, Konrad Billetz, CEO of Frameri, and Paul Powers, CEO of Zoozler LLC and Physna LLC. Frameri makes the world’s first interchangeable prescription frame and lens system. Mr. Billetz was previously part of the Brandery four month accelerator program in 2013. He said, “We got $20,000 as part of the program, and then we did an Indiegogo crowdfunding and got about $100K to get into full production. We were on Shark Tank in 2015, but we turned down the deal we were offered. We found a lens manufacturer in Dallas, TX, but still do some production in-house.

Mr. Powers said, “Physna is a member of Cintrifuse. I started Physna in December 2015, and we are developing software that will lead the revolution in 3D printing. I am also the CEO of Zoozler LLC that is about two years old. Zoozler is a tech development company (including websites, apps, digital marketing and media) and has an initiative for local startups requiring help in tech development.”

I connected with Matt Anthony by phone after I returned from my trip to find out more about First Batch. Mr. Anthony said, “I founded the accelerator in 2013 to overcome the gap between a well made early prototype and being able to make the first batch of product at manufacturing scale. Over the next four years we grew the program to educate and connect entrepreneurs to overcome the additional hurdles to scale, including legal, marketing, distribution, and more. We’re unique nationally in that we’ve focused on utilizing the strength of our local manufacturers, which tied with the heritage in physical consumer products and branding make for a perfect set of resources to grow new physical product companies. We operate out of a 10,000 sq. ft. maker space on the 4th floor of a former brewery, located in the “Over the Rhine” area. The program itself is five months of rigorous learning from regional experts, product testing, development, one-on-one mentorship, and $10,000 in funding to get into actual production. Companies must all come in with a working prototype and an understanding of their business to really get the most of the five short months. Some of our companies have been making their product for years and are looking to expand their production beyond themselves. The goal of the program is to get the companies into the first stage of production and actually selling products in order to set them up for future growth and funding.”

For example, one of their companies, Textile House, used the funding to make a couple hundred garments for their fall fashion line. They already raised an additional round of funding through a Kiva micro loan to bring their spring line to market in early 2017.

 

He added, “We started out with two companies in 2013, four in 2014, five in 2015, and six this year. We started this year in June and our 2016 class just culminated in a Demo Day on November 9th. We try to check in with graduates to continue to ensure growth, and about half of the companies each year choose to stay on as members of the maker space.”

When I asked him to describe how their program works, he said, “After an open application, our companies are selected through a series of interviews that end in a final juried selection. Once the program starts our cohort meets as a group twice a week, and one-on-one at least once, often with speakers, manufacturer visits, branding support, and other individual consultation sprinkled in between. We start the week on Monday mornings reviewing business concepts and readings, ranging from learning more about the types of entrepreneurial personalities via E-Myth, and later how to start prototyping and quickly testing product ideas via Lean Startup and marketing channels via Traction. We are primarily funded through grants and donations of time and materials, and don’t currently take an equity position in our companies. We look to help grow companies by connecting to resources down the line from ECDI, Queen City Angels, Cintrifuse, even other accelerators.”

With so many accelerators and incubator programs to nurture startup companies, Cincinnati is off to a good start to achieve its goal of re-industrializing the Cincinnati region. Other cities in the United States that were formerly major industrial centers would do well to follow the example of Cincinnati in setting a goal of re-industrializing their city to create more higher paying jobs and restore prosperity.

 

Cutting Edge Technologies Power Cincinnati Industries – Part 2

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

T, sensDuring the second day of my visit to Cincinnati, Ohio November 1st – 4th, I had the pleasure of meeting with Tony Canonaco, CEO, and Tom Rosenberg, Director of Marketing, at Balluff’s North American headquarters based in Florence, Kentucky.

Mr. Canonaco said, “With over 50 years of sensor experience, Balluff is a leading global sensor specialist with its own line of connectivity products for every area of factory automation. Our global headquarters is based in Germany, and our North American headquarters was established in Florence, KY in the early 1980s. Our products include  a wide variety of sensors, mechanical limit switches, rotary and linear measurement transducers, machine vision and RFID systems, and distributed modular I/O network solutions.  Our products are involved in making the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) work.”

As we toured the plant, I saw their sensors being used right on their own production and packaging lines, as well as for inventory control of finished goods. With IIoT’s promise of total visibility, we saw a great example right on their plant floor. IO-Link technology, an advanced point-to-point connection technology, was integrated into all their automated systems providing operators and management a continuous view of the process. With faster response to workload variations, Balluff now has a much leaner operation. Lean examples were also evident in their single-piece flow work cells. Products were produced in a surprisingly small footprint with high efficiency.

Mr. Canonaco said, “Many of our internal transitions towards Lean began during the recession in 2009. It was during this time, we realized that in order to better compete in the future, we needed to eliminate all types of waste and raise the level of productivity of the company. In addition to the change in their own mindset, we accelerated our New Product releases that focused on Automation and Sensing Solutions to help our customers shrink the size of their control panels, reduce their engineering time, and speed up troubleshooting on their machines. We started our journey to become “Leaner” and our customers were provided with new products to help them realize performance and productivity machine enhancements as a result of the recession. Nearly a decade later, this path has proven to be a win-win for us and our customers.”

An additional customer-focused effect of their Lean journey is with one of their most watched metrics inside of Balluff ? On Time and In-Full Delivery to the customer promise date. They consistently plan to achieve greater than 97%.

When I asked if they had a problem of finding people to hire with the right skills, he responded, “Finding people with the right skills and the right mindset is always a challenge and makes all of the difference. We require production associates for manufacturing as well as engineers who work in technical sales, marketing, support, and operations. We are involved with local work force development efforts to help ourselves as well as surrounding manufacturing neighbors. Balluff is an active supporter of National Manufacturing Day to highlight the attractiveness of manufacturing as a career choice. This has proven to be very popular with local middle and high schools. We utilize co-op students from select universities and have started our own Technical Sales Training program for recent college graduates that focus on how to best help manufacturers apply automation in innovative ways.”

We have our own accredited laboratory and a quality management system certified according to ISO 9001:2015 to form a secure foundation for optimized added value for its customers.

Our products increase performance, quality and productivity around the world every day. They satisfy prerequisites for meeting demands for greater performance and cost reductions on the global market. We deliver state-of-the-art solutions no matter how stringent the requirements may be.”

Our last plant visit was to TSS Technologies, located in West Chester, Ohio where we met with CEO, Marc Drapp, followed by a tour of the facility. TSS Technologies provides complex electro-mechanical assemblies and turnkey contract manufacturing solutions to the aerospace, life sciences, energy, semiconductor, solar, sports, consumer, automotive, as well as food and beverage sectors. TSS also builds automation equipment for themselves and other companies.

Mr. Drapp said, “TSS Technologies has been in business for over 65 years and is family owned and operated. We have a machining facility totaling 110,000 square feet and an assembly facility totaling 210,000 square feet. We have approximately 225 employees. We are ISO 9001:2008 and 13485:2003 Certified, as well as AS9100C Certified and won the GE Healthcare Excellence award.”

As we toured the plant, we saw examples of many of the above products being assembled or being staged for assembly for a couple new products coming online. Contrary to most contract manufacturers, Mr. Drapp likes to get involved with early stage companies to help them get into batch production and ramp up to full production. We saw a complete “bakery” producing shelf-stable pretzels that is an example of working with a start-up company to ramp up into full production within his facility. We each gratefully accepted two packaged pretzels and shared one when we returned to the conference room.

When I asked Mr. Drapp how the Great Recession had affected them and what they did to recover, he said, “The recession was tough on our company, especially our machine shop. We lost a lot of contract machining work to our customers that brought the work back inside their plants. On the other hand, it really allowed for us to right size our operation and allow for us to be more nimble in the coming years.

We capitalized on the tough times by reorganizing our structure and tightening our manufacturing processes. This allowed us to become more lean and efficient. Ultimately allowing us to come out of the recession quicker and better able to respond to customer needs.

The recession really allowed for us to take a look at TSS and what we wanted to be. It allowed us to focus on the right customers for our business. It also allowed us to focus on the right areas for growth. From a lean perspective, we have always practiced lean manufacturing. The recession didn’t really change that.”

From these stories, we can see that cutting-edge technologies and unique capabilities have been the key to these three companies surviving the Great Recession and now thriving. The rebuilding of manufacturing in the Cincinnati region is being  helped by the innovative technologies being developed at the University of Cincinnati and the other three regional universities and colleges. The collaboration of public and private entities and far-sighted leaders will enable Cincinnati to achieve their vision of re-industrialzing Cincinnati to create jobs and prosperity.

Cutting Edge Technologies Power Cincinnati Industries – Part 1

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

During the first day of my visit to Cincinnati, Ohio November 1st – 4th, I had the pleasure of meeting with key personnel from the Intelligent Maintenance System Center (IMS) at the University of Cincinnati:  Dr. Hossein Davari – IMS Center Post-Doctoral Fellow, Patrick Brown – IMS Center Program Director, Chao Jin – IMS Center Graduate Researcher, and Michael Lyons – IMS Center Program Coordinator.

Prior to my visit I had been provided with background information on how the University of Cincinnati evolved into what it is today:  “The Ohio Mechanics Institute (OMI), parent name of the College of Applied Science, was founded in 1828 as a private educational institution and the first school west of the Alleghenies dedicated to technical education.” This struck me because this was about the same time as the Lowell Machine Shop in Lowell, MA first started producing interchangeable parts for firearms sold to the Springfield Armory. I did not realize that Cincinnati was industrialized so early in the Industrial Revolution period.

“OMI operated exclusively as an evening college until 1901 when day courses on a pre-college level were added. In 1919 the day courses were revised into collegiate programs…In 1958 the college designated separate names for its day and evening operations, the day school became the Ohio College of Applied Science (OCAS) and the evening school was named the Ohio Mechanics Institute Evening College (OMIEC). The college merged with the University of Cincinnati in 1969 and offered programs in the engineering technologies and related areas with the aim of preparing individuals for careers as engineering technologists, engineering technicians, and managers in industry. The college began offering bachelor’s degrees in the early 70s. The name of the college was changed in 1978 to the OMI College of Applied Science and was shortened to the College of Applied Science in 2000.

In 2009, the UC Board of Trustees approved the creation of the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS)… [to integrate] two predecessor colleges —The College of Engineering and The College of Applied Science… During the late 50s…advanced studies in engineering and research became the focus…to strengthen the college’s focus on graduate education. A joint project with the Engineer’s Council for Professional Development (ECPD), and local industry provided opportunities for young professional engineers to pursue graduate degrees without leaving their jobs. Both colleges and the City of Cincinnati have shared long and productive partnerships…through cooperative education assignments, research funding and graduate placement…”

Dr. Davari told me that the “IMS Center is a leading NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) that consists of the University of Cincinnati, the University of Michigan and Missouri University of Science & Technology.”

He said, “The Center has over twelve years of experience in developing and delivering Prognostics and Health Management (PHM) solutions for a wide-range of applications. The IMS Center’s mission is to enable products and systems to achieve and sustain near-zero breakdown performance, and transform maintenance data to useful information for improved productivity and asset life-cycle utilization. Since its inception in 2001, the Center has conducted over 100 successful industry and NSF supported projects, and has attracted over 80 members from all across the globe. The IMS Center was recently identified as the most economically impactful I/UCRC in NSF’s recent study titled Measuring the Economic Impacts of the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program: A Feasibility Study. According to this study, the Center delivered its members $846.7 million in combined benefits over the last ten years.”

Dr. Davari explained the work of their Masters in Science and PhD students, “Graduate students in the IMS Center focus on developing innovative technologies and tools for health assessment, degradation monitoring and prognostics of machinery. Graduate students work both towards conducting fundamental research along with developing specific tools to address the needs of the industry. Graduate students get the opportunity to work closely with industry members ranging from manufacturing to energy and transportation applications. With a unique set of skills and experience in the field of Prognostics and Health Management (PHM), they continue to develop innovative tools and technologies and bring value to both industry and academia. The IMS Center researchers have also won the PHM Society Data Challenge five times since 2008. It is an annual competition organized by the PHM society and is open to researchers in academia and industry worldwide.”

Dr. Davari stated, “In 2012, National Instruments awarded the Prognostics Innovation Award to IMS Center for the development of Watchdog Agent Prognostics toolkit. Watchdog Agent consists of a set of algorithms and tools developed for degradation assessment and failure prediction of machinery and processes. The toolbox has been implemented in various industrial applications and has been commercialized by National Instruments as an additional toolbox for the LabVIEW software package.

I told him I could see how important preventing failure is healthcare because a failure could result in serious harm to a patient and even be fatal. When I asked him to explain what a “Digital Twin is, he said, “It is a digital representation of the physical system, generated by data-driven and physics-based models. IMS Center has developed a Cyber-physical Interface, through which the data is being collected from a machine continuously. This data is then processed and converted to machine health information using tools in Watchdog Agent toolbox. This health information is used to make informed decisions for optimum maintenance and near-zero breakdowns. It also continuously seeks for possible variations in the machine performance and provides insight into the current performance of the machine compared to its past performance, or its peers doing the same job. Digital twin basically connects the physical world to cyber world for improved visibility and transparency in machine operation.” He later forwarded me a link to a video describing IMS technologies.

Next we visited the Ceramic Matrix Composite Laboratory at GE Aviation and met with Jon Blank, Composite Matrix & Advanced Composite Section Leader, and Perry Bradley, Communications Leader, GE Aviation, followed by a tour of the lab.

From the material I was provided in advance, I learned that advancing the use of ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) has challenged industry for decades. In my day job as a manufacturers’ sales rep for fabrication companies, I had represented a company doing ceramic injection molding and a company making pre-preg layup composite parts for airline interiors in the 1990s. I was aware of the ultra-lightweight and super-heat-resistant properties of CMCs and knew that companies were investing millions to try to win the race to mass-produce this engineered material.

We first toured the Leaning Center where all the engine models GE has produced were on display. It was inspiring to me to see that advancements in technology incorporated into these successive generations of engines. Since I have previously represented companies that produced forgings and investment castings, I understood how advances in metals technology, particularly the use of Titanium, had reduced weight and improved the efficiency of engines. Since Solar Turbines in San Diego was one of my customers, I was aware of their work in the development of using ceramic molded parts in small turbine engines. However, when I saw the complexity of shape and size of the CMC turbine blades that GE Aviation is now making, it was astonishing.

Mr. Blank told me that “For more than 20 years, GE scientists in the U.S. and worldwide have worked to develop CMCs as a differentiating technology in large gas turbines for power generation, and in jet engines for commercial and military jet planes. Now their big bet is paying off as GE leads the charge to industrialize CMCs for large engine applications. GE leads the world in introducing CMCs into the hot section of jet engines and gas turbines and is creating the vertically-integrated supply chain necessary to mass produce CMC components.”

He explained why CMCs are critical to advancing the jet propulsion and power generation industries. “Components made of CMCs allow gas turbines and jet engines to run hotter, and thus more efficient. Ultra-lightweight CMCs also reduce weight throughout the engine, leading to higher fuel efficiency. CMCs in gas turbines and jet engines contribute to lower emissions and improved environmental performance. They create a significant economic advantage. CMCs are made of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic resin, manufactured through a highly sophisticated process, and further enhanced with proprietary coatings. They are one-third the density of metal alloys and one-third the weight.”

He continued, “CMCs are more durable and heat resistant than metal alloys, allowing the diversion of less cooling air into the engine’s hot section, and thereby improving overall engine efficiency. By using the cooling air instead in the engine flow path, the engine can run more efficiently at higher thrust. The average rate of technology progress for turbine engine material temperature capability increased 50 degrees per decade. With the use of CMCs, GE will now increase the temperature by 150 degrees in this decade, 3x the traditional rate. The benefits of CMCs are a 10% thrust increase and increased temperature using 2400F CMCs.”

He said, “In 2009, GE Aviation ran the first CMCs in the hot section of the F136 military engine. The CMCs were structural shrouds that direct air in the high-pressure turbine section, the hottest area of the engine. The results encouraged us to pursue CMC components with its next-generation commercial jet engines. GE worked to expand its overall CMC production capability. In 2012, Nippon Carbon (NCK) of Japan, a producer of composite fibers, formed a joint venture with GE (25% ownership) and Snecma (25%) called NGS Advanced Fibers, which produces fibers for CMC components such as the CMC shrouds. The next year later, GE Aviation expanded CMC “lean lab” operations in Delaware to develop new CMC components and the plant in Asheville, North Carolina was selected as factory to mass produce CMC components. Their lab was established in 2014, and in 2015, the Huntsville, Alabama factory was selected to produce CMC building-block materials [fiber and tape.]”

As we toured the lab and watched a couple of parts being made, he said “We have now established a fully-integrated CMC supply chain in the U.S. involving CMC raw material production in Huntsville, research and low-volume production here in Cincinnati, the CMC Lean Lab in Delaware, and CMC mass production in Asheville.”

Mr. Bradley said, “The LEAP engine for narrow-body aircraft will enter airline service in 2016 with CMC shrouds [18 shrouds per engine] in the high-pressure turbine section. This is being developed by CFM International, which is a 50/50 joint company of GE and Snecma of France. By the end of the decade, GE will introduce the GE9X engine for the new Boeing 777X under development. This engine will also feature CMC components in both the combustor [inner and outer liner] and high-pressure turbine sections [stage 1 and 2 nozzles, and stage 1 shrouds]. ”

He also said, “GE Aviation continues to run an advanced military engine through the U.S. government-sponsored ADVENT program with CMCs in the combustor and turbine sections – demonstrating the highest core temperatures in jet propulsion history. In 2014, GE Aviation successfully ran CMC turbine blades – a high-speed rotating part – in a F414 military demonstrator. This is a huge breakthrough for GE in pursuing the use of CMC in rotating parts because up to now, CMCs have been limited to static parts in an engine.”

Mr. Blank concluded, “This is all part of GE Aviation’s continuing efforts to further mature CMC technology for future commercial and military engines. The demand for CMCs is expected to grow tenfold over the next decade.”

We ended day one with a meeting with the directors of several accelerators/incubators and a few entrepreneurs in these programs in the region, which I will cover in a future article. I already covered meetings I had with key leaders in my first article last week on “Cincinnati focuses on Re-industrialization to Create Prosperity. Part two of this article will cover the companies I visited on day two of my visit.

Cincinnati Focuses on Re-industrialization to Create Prosperity

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Last week, I spent two and a half days in Cincinnati, Ohio as the guest of Source Cincinnati, an independent, multi-year national social and media relations initiative that works to enhance perceptions of Cincinnati as a world-class Midwestern region. I met with Julie Calvert, Executive Director, during my visit, but my personal guide and host was Paul Fox, VP of Strategic Initiatives at Proctor & Gamble and “Executive on Loan” to Source Cincinnati for a year.

From Mr. Fox, I learned that Cincinnati is the third largest city in Ohio and had such interesting nicknames as “Porkopolis” in the past because it was the largest pork packing center in the world and the “Queen City of the West,” for its ideal location on the Ohio River and its rich culture and heritage of a predominantly German population who settled Cincinnati in the late 1700s.

After arriving late Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Fox and I had dinner with David Linger of TechSolve, and Scott Broughton, Center Director for Advantage Kentucky Alliance at the WKU Center for R&D at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY. TechSolve is a 30-year old consulting firm that is a State of Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partner (MEP) affiliate, and Advantage Kentucky Alliance (AKA) is the MEP for Kentucky. Mr. Linger just took over the reins as President and CEO on September 1, 2016 after Gary Conley retired from 20 years of service.

Mr. Linger, said “There are about 2,500 manufacturers in the Ohio region of metropolitan Cincinnati, and Cincinnati used to be known as the “Machine Tool Capital of the U. S.”, but very few machine tool companies exist today, including its most well-known machine tool company, Cincinnati Milacron,” after its machine tool line was sold to Unova. TechSolve provides manufacturing and health care consulting. It has a focus and strength in process improvement, machining, and innovation — applying these skills to help businesses find long-term solutions and promote problem-solving cultures.

Mr. Broughton said, “AKA is a not-for-profit partnership that provides assistance and training to help manufacturers of all sizes grow, improve their manufacturing and business strategies and processes, adopt advanced technologies, increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve competitiveness. Manufacturing in Eastern Kentucky was mainly related to the coal mining industry, and two-thirds of the companies have gone out of business. We have focused on helping the remaining manufacturers to understand their core competencies to market to new industries, such as aviation and automotive. Our services include:  business growth services, continuous improvement services, and workforce solution services.”

On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast with Laura Brunner, President/CEO, and Gail Paul Director of Communication Strategy of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. She told me that the Port Authority was established by the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 2001 and is the second largest inland port covering 26 miles from the Indiana/Ohio border. In 2008, the Port Authority was reformed and empowered to take a leadership position in regional economic development. It is a quasi-public agency that operates collaboratively with dozens of economic development, community and corporate partners.

Ms. Brunner presented me with a report prepared for me, titled “Manufacturing in the Greater Cincinnati Region. As background, “The Port Authority leverages its infrastructure strengths and development-related expertise to design and execute complex projects to improve property value, catalyze private investment and promote job creation.”

I was astounded when she told me, “The Cincinnati region has lost 67% of its manufacturing jobs.” The report states, “Manufacturing was a primary component of Cincinnati’s economy until its peak in 1969 when 43 percent of the workforce in Hamilton County was employed in manufacturing jobs. Today, lower-wage service-providing jobs far outnumber manufacturing jobs by about 7:1…From 1969-2015, the number of people employed in manufacturing decreased from 146,000 to 48,000.”

She said that the Port Authority Board of Directors has established a vision to transform Cincinnati to prosperity by 2022 through “repositioning undervalued properties and re-building neighborhoods.” The report she gave me states that the strategies for success are:

  • “Industrial Revitalization – redevelopment of 500 acres of underutilized industrial land along key transportation corridors
  • Neighborhood Revitalization – transform ten communities for lasting impact, including residential properties and commercial business districts
  • Public Finance Innovation – cultivate a nationally-recognized public finance program that supports economic and community development efforts

The projected Return on Investment for these strategies is:

500 industrial acres redeveloped 10 revitalized communities
8,000 new jobs 300 quality homes
$565 million in annual payroll 50 commercial acres with 400K SF
$550 million in capital investment 130 new businesses
$8 million in income taxes Increased property & income taxes
$14 million in real estate taxes Improved lives of residents

In June 2015, the PGCDA Board approved establishment of the industrial and neighborhood strategy, development of internal resources, communication strategy, and the financing and fundraising plan to support the strategies.”

The report states, “The proposed redevelopment of approximately 2,000 acres of industrial land through Hamilton County for Manufacturing uses will have a considerable impact on the Greater Cincinnati Region.”

The first sites for the Redevelopment Pilot program have been selected, and the first funds have been obtained for acquisition of land parcels, demolition/remediation of existing buildings, and site preparation. The first site is assembled and is scheduled to open in 2017.

In the meeting with Ms. Brunner and Paul, I was also provided a “Manufacturing Attractiveness Study” by Deloitte Consulting LLP presented on October 3, 2016 to the Greater Cincinnati Port Development Authority, TechSolve, and Cushman and Wakefield.

The study states, “The current lack of easily developable real estate (cleared, access to utilities, free from environmental concerns, etc.) in the Cincinnati area likely puts the city at a significant disadvantage for attracting manufacturing investments.

The Port Authority’s operations focus on transportation, community revitalization, public finance and real estate development makes it especially well-equipped to evaluate and address opportunities to redevelop and reposition sites formerly occupied by industrial operations.”

The Port Authority seeks “to achieve the following objectives:

  • Analyze the last 5 years of manufacturing deployments in the Ohio Region (Ohio and surrounding states)
  • Understand trends in urban manufacturing through case studies
  • Identify demand-side location factors that drive location decisions in the advanced manufacturing, food and flavoring, and Bio-Health (Life Sciences) industries
  • Understand the strengths/ weaknesses of Cincinnati as business location”

In analyzing the Manufacturing Investments for the Ohio Region from 2011-2016, the study revealed:

States # of Project Announcements Capital Investment Jobs Created
Indiana 350~ ~$13.4 ~37,000
Ohio 271 ~$17.6 ~34,000
Kentucky 230 ~$9.0 ~24,000

“Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky saw the most number of project announcements along with largest amounts of capital investment over the past five years.”

“The majority of the manufacturing investments in Ohio over the past 5 years are spread throughout rural areas within commutable distances of large metropolitan areas (Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Akron and Cleveland.) Based on FDI data, 14 manufacturing projects were announced in Cincinnati within the past 5 years.”

The Deloitte study stated “Advanced manufacturers are highly interested in labor quality and availability as well as minimizing risk related to site development and neighboring use concerns.” The two highest factors are: “Labor Quality and Availability (engineers, technicians and operators) and Real Estate (Site readiness, Capacity and availability of utilities, and Neighboring use/pollution). Labor quality, labor availability and supply chain tend to be the key drivers for food industry in making location decisions.

The study showed that “A 1-hr drive time from downtown Cincinnati allows access to a significant labor force, with over 2.5 million in population.” The manufacturing industry represents 14.34% of the Cincinnati Metro economy. Persons with Associate degrees (20.12%), Bachelor degrees (11.97%), and graduate degrees (8.42%) represent 50.51% of the population, and another 45.71% of workers have a high school diploma (26.08%) or some college (19.63%).

Other advantages are: “When compared to the states surrounding Ohio, Ohio has a relatively low average industrial electricity price;” and “Cincinnati is located right in the heart of the most utilized truck routes in the country and has a relatively low percentage of roads requiring significant maintenance when compared to nearby states…”

The summary findings of the report were:

  • “Cincinnati has an advantage in the presence of industrial engineers, machinist and tool/ die makers, as well as a large supply of lower skilled production workers, giving the area a talent proposition to attract manufacturing deployments
  • However, a key driver of the evaluation process for manufacturing deployments is developable sites… Cincinnati currently lacks suitable real estate options to entice most manufacturing operations
  • Given Cincinnati’s availability in key manufacturing skill sets and low/average cost in several talent segments, an investment program to prepare site options would enhance its ability to attract manufacturing investment.”

Our next meeting was with Kimm Coyner, V. P. Business Development & Project Management of REDI Cincinnati, which was spun out of the Cincinnati Chamber in 2014 with the support of Jobs Ohio. REDI Cincinnati covers 15 counties ? five in Southwest Ohio, seven in northern Kentucky, and three in Southeast Indiana, through which the Ohio River runs in the center.

Ms. Coyner said, “REDI is solely focused on new capital investment and attracting and expanding manufacturing to create good paying jobs. We have 165 public and private members. Our team identifies opportunities to attract businesses to the region by developing relationships with companies and new markets – domestically and across the globe. We provide connections to the resources that take startups to the next level and grow existing businesses. We connect companies to the region’s assets, advantages and business leaders to secure Greater Cincinnati’s place as one of the world’s leading business centers.”

She told us that railroads were the key to industrial development of the region in the 19th Century to provide transportation beyond the river. She said, “While Cincinnati arguably stayed too long in the manufacture of carriages and missed out on being a primary automotive manufacturing center like Detroit, we remain a major tier 1 supplier to that industry with hundreds of manufacturers and a significant talent base. We have five key industry clusters:  Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology, Food and Flavorings, BioHealth, and Shared Services. Advanced Manufacturing is made up of automotive, aerospace, chemicals and plastics and additive manufacturing/3D printing. Our region is the #1 supply state to Boeing and Airbus. We have nine Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Cincinnati, and four of the nine are manufacturers: AK Steel Holding, Ashland, Kroger and Procter & Gamble.”

I was subsequently emailed a list of the top ten employers, nine of which are manufacturers:

  • Kroger 21,646 employees
  • GE Aviation – 7,800 employees
  • AK Steel Holding Corp. – 2,400 employees
  • United Dairy Farmers – 2,029 employees
  • Ford Motor Co. – 1,650 employees
  • Mubea NA – 1,360 employees
  • Bosch Automotive Steering – 1,300 employees
  • Intelligrated Inc. – 1,100 employees
  • Hillenbrand Inc. – 1,080 employees
  • Milacron LLC – 1,020 employees

She added, “We participated with JobsOhio in a booth at the IMTS show in Chicago and focused on promoting Cincinnati as a site destination to companies from Germany.” She noted that Cincinnati has the second largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich, Germany. I told her that we have a strong German-American club in San Diego that puts on a good Oktoberfest featuring a band they bring from Germany.

It is obvious to me that Cincinnati leaders recognize the important role that manufacturing plays in a local and state economy. I had mentioned to everyone I met that manufacturing is the foundation of the middle class, and if we lose manufacturing, we will lose the middle class. Cincinnati learned this lesson the hard way, but I am confident that their new vision to re-industrialize Cincinnati will create good paying jobs for residents and restore prosperity to the Cincinnati region.

I was honored to be invited to give a presentation on “How to solve the skills shortage and attract the next generation of manufacturing workers” that was based on several articles I have written in the past four years (all are available at www.savingusmanufacturing.com under Workforce Development category). If Cincinnati’s leaders achieve their vision, more skilled workers will be needed. Specific recommendations I made were: (1) start to engage youth in middle school through summer camps, and robot contests (2) provide career technical pathways in high schools and community colleges, plan a Maker Faire, promote establishment of a Maker Place, and become more involved in future Manufacturing Day (www.MFGDAY.com).

These meetings provided so much information that I will devote my next article to my visits to local manufacturers:  GE Ceramic Matrix Composite Laboratory at the GE Aviation plant in Cincinnati, Balluff North America in Florence, KY, and TSS Technologies in West Chester, OH, as well as the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems at the University of Cincinnati.