Posts Tagged ‘American manufacturing’

North Dakota Manufacturers Ride Innovation to Rapid Growth

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEPs are Essential to Rebuilding American Manufacturing Competitiveness

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

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

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

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

The top challenges reported to MEP by manufacturers are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Industries Generate High-tech Spinoffs in Southwest Florida

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest Florida Attracts Manufacturers, not just Retirees

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Reshoring a Myth or Reality?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

When I first started talking about saving America manufacturing and returning manufacturing to America four years ago after the first edition of my book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved? Why we should and how we can, came out, I was met with a great deal of skepticism. Some typical comments were:  “I don’t think we can.” “It’s too late.” “I wish we could.” “We need to.” Very few thought we actually could return manufacturing to America.

A lot has changed in four years. At last week’s Del Mar Design and Electronics Show (DMEDS) in San Diego, CA, a very successful fellow manufacturers’ sales rep, stopped me in the parking lot and said, “I used to think you were nuts, but you were right. Manufacturing is returning to America.” While this manufacturers’ representative sales agency is headquartered in southern California, it has affiliate companies in Mexico, Malaysia, China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen) and Taiwan (Taipei and Hsinchu) so I did not take this admission lightly.

The theme of this year’s DMEDS was “The Re-Birth of American Manufacturing, and it featured a full-day Reshoring track. This track began with my presentation on “Reshoring: Bringing Manufacturing Back to America Using Total Cost Analysis and ended with “Reshoring:  What is a Fit and How Can it Save Your Company Money?” This track also featured “Lean Manufacturing is the Path to Operational Excellence,” “3D Printing:  What it is, Isn’t, Will Be and Won’t Be,” and “Save Your Factory with Robotic Automation.”

While there were offshore companies exhibiting at DMEDS, it was dominated by U. S. manufacturers, regional contract manufacturers, and local sales reps and distributors. The buzz at the show was that manufacturing is returning to America, and every contract manufacturer I spoke to at the show had experienced a “reshoring” event.

In the past year, there have been numerous articles debating whether “reshoring” is a myth or really happening. For example, the cover article of the April 22, 2013 issue of Time magazine was “Made in USA – Manufacturing is Back ? But Where are the Jobs? The first page of the article is full of pictures of products that have returned from offshore, representing an unbelievable cross section of consumer goods, ranging from toys such as the Frisbee. Slinky and Crayola crayons to electric mixers, barbecues, saws, hammers, and many more.

The reason the article poses the questions about how many jobs are being created by the return of manufacturing to America is that the manufacturing plants of the present and future have more machines and fewer workers than in the past. Robotics, automation, and lean manufacturing are helping companies do more with fewer people, and the rapidly improving technology of additive manufacturing is changing the way parts are being made.

The article featured a glimpse of manufacturing’s future in the stories of two companies:

  • ExOne, near Pittsburgh, PA, providing Digital Part Materialization (DPM) that transforms engineering design files directly into fully functional objects using 3D printing machines
  • GE’s highly automated battery factory in Schenectady, NY.

ExOne needs only two workers and a design engineer per shift to support its 12 metal-printing machines. The GE plant produces Durathon sodium batteries that are large and powerful enough to power cell phone towers. Because of being highly automated, the plant only employs 370 high-tech workers in a 200,000 sq. ft. facility.

What was most encouraging to me was that the article reported that Ashley Furniture is building a new plant south of Winston-Salem, NC that will employ 500 people. This is an industry that even I doubted would ever come back to the U.S.

Key statistics pointed out in the article were that China’s average hourly wage was only $0.50 in 2000 but is projected to be $4.50 by 2015. This is probably a conservative estimate because China’s wages rose by 15-20% over the last five years but are expected to increase by another 60% in 2013 alone. Another factor noted is that the cost to ship a 40-ft. container from China to the West Coast rose from $1,184 in 2009 to $2,302 this year. These facts corroborate the Boston Consulting Group’s 2011 report that there will be a convergence in the total costs between China and the U. S. by 2015.


This quote from GE CEO Jeff Immelt concluded the article:  “Will U.S. manufacturing go from 9% to 30% of all jobs? That’s unlikely. But could you see a steady increase in jobs over the next quarters and year? I think that will happen.” I agree and so does Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative and developer of the Total Cost of OwnershipTM spreadsheet.


Mr. Moser’s organization promotes and tracks cases of reshoring across the U.S. He estimates that between 2010 and 2012, about 50,000 jobs were created in the U.S. because of the trend—which equates to 10% of the 500,000 manufacturing jobs created in the past three years.


On the myth side of the debate, the 2012 Hackett Group’s report, “Reshoring Global Manufacturing:  Myths and Realities” by Michel Janssen, Erik Dorr and David P. Sievers

states, “By next year, China’s cost advantage over manufacturers in industrialized nations and competing low-cost destinations will evaporate.” However, they conclude that “few of the low-skill Chinese manufacturing jobs will ever return to advanced economies; most will simply move to other low-cost countries.


Using hard data from their 2012 Supply Chain Optimization study, they analyzed the trend in “reshoring” of manufacturing capacity, and their findings debunk the myth that manufacturing capacity is returning in a big way to Western countries as a result of rising costs in China. The report states, “The reality is that the net amount of capacity coming back barely offsets the amount that continues to be sent offshore.”

The report also offers recommendations on how companies should plot their manufacturing sourcing strategies. Interestingly, their recommendations incorporate some of the factors that Mr. Moser and I include as part of a Total Cost of Ownership analysis, such as “integrate the views of manufacturing, procurement, finance and business-unit leadership,” “Establish a game plan to deal with risk: Geopolitical, supply base, environmental and commodity risks are a given,” “Establish a proactive approach to anticipate risks, creating mitigation plans with clear triggers for implementation,” and “Broaden the decision making approach beyond total landed cost.”

The Hackett Group’s definition of “Total landed cost” is not as broad and encompassing as the definition of Total Cost of Ownership I provide in the 2009 edition of my book and that Mr. Moser uses in the TCO spreadsheet he developed in 2010. Their definition is “Total landed cost is the set of end-to end supply chain costs to transform raw materials and components into a finished good ready for sale. Key components include: raw material and component costs, manufacturing costs (fixed and variable), transportation and logistics, inventory carrying cost, and taxes and duties.

My definition of TCO includes the “hidden costs of doing business offshore,” such as Intellectual Property theft, danger of counterfeit parts, the risk factors of political instability, natural disasters, riots, strikes, technological depth and reserve capacity of suppliers, currency fluctuation. Mr. Moser’s TCO spreadsheet includes calculations for factors such as Intellectual Property risk, political instability risk, effect on innovation, product liability risk, annual wage inflation, and currency appreciation.

While the number of companies bringing products lines back to America is increasing, I have to admit that as manufacturers’ sales reps for all American companies; we are still losing business to China for individual parts our principals are quoting. Just recently, we lost several rubber parts that our rubber molder has made for a customer in our territory for 15 years. Our customer had been purchased by a multinational awhile back that has a subsidiary in China, so the new management decided to tool up these parts in China and discontinue ordering them from our molder. I am sure that the decision was made based on the lower piece price without doing a TCO analysis.

You can help your company get the most value for its dollars and help return manufacturing to America by doing the following:

  • Use the TCO spreadsheet available for free at
  • Use the archived webinars to inform staff and customers
  • Work with groups being trained on TCO – Manufacturing Extension Program (MEPs) sites around the country
  • Prepare your workforce for reshoring
  • Submit cases of reshoring for publication and posting using the Reshoring Initiative’s  template
  • Sponsor the Reshoring Initiative

I strongly believe that if more companies would learn to understand and utilize the TCO estimator spreadsheet of the “Reshoring Initiative,” they would realize that the best value for their company is to source their parts, assemblies, and products in America. Doing this would help return manufacturing to America to create a far higher percentage of jobs than the 10% that have been brought back to America thus far and help maintain more manufacturing in U. S.


Innovative Programs Provide Career and Technical Education in High Schools

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center analysis of census data, for the first time, a third of American 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That share has been slowly edging up from fewer than one-fifth of young adults in the early 1970s to 33 percent this year. What happens to the other two-thirds of young adults? In Germany, they typically hold an occupational certification by the age of 20, but in the United States, non-college grads are often left without marketable skills or qualifications.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

There are already a number of innovative high schools across the country that are pioneering a model for career and technical education that has little to do with the narrow vocational classes of yesteryear, like wood shop and auto shop. Instead, at Linked Learning schools in California, at the MET schools in Rhode Island, and at Tech Valley High outside Albany, high school students complete internships in real workplaces, exploring fields as diverse as baking, engineering, and biotechnology. Students have the opportunity to check out more than one profession so they can see how adults use their education in the workplace. This helps students stay motivated to earn a degree and introduces them to the behaviors and practices specific to the working world.

California is one of the states that put vocational training back into the curriculum at high schools and community colleges. During his terms as California’s governor from 2003-2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger identified workforce skills, referred to as Career Technical Education (CTE), as a priority for California. The State plan specifies learning goals in 58 career pathways organized around 15 industry sectors. The CTE is delivered primarily through K-12/adult education programs and community college programs and includes the following:

K-12/Adult Programs:

  • Elementary school awareness and middle school introductory CTE programs
  • High school CTE, offered through 1,165 high schools in single courses, in course sequences or through over 300 integrated “learning communities”
  • ROCPs offering career pathways and programs through 74 ROCPs
  • Adult education offered through 361 adult schools and over 1,000 sites
  • Apprenticeship offered through over 200 apprenticeship program and adult schools

Community College

  • Occupational programs offered at all 109 colleges, leading to certificates, associate degrees, and transfer to four-year universities
  • Noncredit instruction for short-term CTE programs offered by 58 colleges
  • Apprenticeship offering over 160 apprenticeship programs at 39 colleges
  • Middle College High Schools (13) and Early College High Schools (19)
  • Tech Prep programs delivered through 80 Tech Prep “consortia,” comprising 109 colleges and their feeder high schools

As a result, California developed “Linked Learning,” which is an approach that is transforming education for California students by integrating rigorous academics with career-based learning and real world workplace experiences. Linked Learning ignites high school students’ passions by creating meaningful learning experiences through career-oriented pathways in fields such as engineering, health care, performing arts, law, and more.

The Linked Learning pathway is defined as:  A multiyear, comprehensive high school program of integrated academic and career technical study that is organized around a broad theme, interest area, or industry sector. Pathways connect learning with students’ interests and career aspirations, preparing them for the full range of post-graduation options including two- and four-year colleges and universities, apprenticeships, formal employment training, and military service.

In 2012, sixty three districts and county offices of education in California committed to making Linked Learning a district-wide improvement strategy and participate in the state Linked Learning Pilot Program, authorized by Assembly Bill 790. The scale of the state Linked Learning Pilot Program will give many more students in more regions around the state access to Linked Learning. When the pilot is fully implemented, Linked Learning will be available to more than one third of the state’s high school students – that’s approximately 700,000 students.

Linked Learning can be implemented through various models such as the California Linked Learning District initiative, which includes nine districts that have already implemented the Linked Learning approach:

  • Antioch USD
  • Long Beach USD
  • Los Angeles USD, Local District 4
  • Montebello USD
  • Oakland USD
  • Pasadena USD
  • Porterville USD
  • Sacramento City USD
  • West Contra Costa USD

Additional models include California Partnership Academies, career academies, National Academy Foundation academies, charter schools, and small-themed schools to name just a few. Today in California, 500 California Partnership Academies are organized around one of the state’s California’s 15 major industry sectors, and another approximately 300 career academies are in operation. Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs) play an important part in many of these academies. In many other high schools, ROCPs are experimenting with innovative approaches to integrate academic and technical education.

While my hometown of San Diego hasn’t implemented the Linked Learning approach, Clairemont High School has an Academy of Business & Technology (AOBT), which is a “school within a school” that focuses on business, computer, and communication skills. The three-year program provides college-prep core classes and business career-technical electives to provide students the technological, financial, and communicative skills necessary to succeed in a college and career environment.

The academy program is committed to providing students with an array of unique educational activities and opportunities that are not typically incorporated into general education courses such as: • Internships in the business field • Mentorships with community partners • Entrepreneurship training • Instruction in finance and economics • Online business simulations • Field trips to businesses and colleges • Guest speakers on various careers • Job interview & resume guidance • Computer skills in Microsoft applications • Public speaking preparation  • Project-based group assignment • Team-building and leadership exercises • Problem-based learning projects • Group simulations.

On a nationwide basis, the non-profit organization Project Lead The Way® (PLTW) has been working since 1997 to promote pre-engineering courses for middle and high school students. PLTW forms partnerships with public schools, higher education institutions, and the private sector to increase the quantity and quality of engineers and engineering technologists graduating from our educational system. The PLTW curriculum was first introduced to 12 New York State high schools in the 1997-98 school years. A year later, PLTW field-tested its four unit Middle School Program in three middle schools. Today, there are over 400,000 students enrolled in programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

PLTW has developed innovative and mutually beneficial partnerships with more than 100 prestigious colleges and universities, called University Affiliates, to facilitate the delivery of the PLTW programs. They provide and coordinate activities such as professional development, college-level recognition, program quality initiatives, and statewide/regional support and communication.

PLTW has nearly 100 leading corporate sponsors, including 3M, BAE Systems, Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm, Rockwell Automation, Solar Turbines, and Sprint. Some of non-profit sponsors are the Kauffman Foundation and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation. Corporations and philanthropic organizations generously provide PLTW with:

  • capital resources which it allocates to schools so that they may deliver leading-edge STEM curriculum, technology, materials and equipment to students;
  • access to experienced and talented employees who assist teachers in PLTW classrooms.

Another PLTW program sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation and other organizations is the Gateway Academy, a one- or two-week day camp for 6th – 8th graders that is a project based, hands-on curriculum designed by PLTW to introduce middle school students to the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning. The camp typically includes team-building exercises, individual and team projects, and utilizes the latest technology to solve problems. The camp is hosted by high schools or middle schools offering PLTW programs, such as Gateway To Technology (GTT) or Pathway To Engineering (PTE).

Campers work together in a fun, exciting environment using leading-edge technologies to sample such disciplines as robotics, aeronautics and eco-design. They brainstorm ideas, solve problems and build bridges, race cars and other working models.

Participation in a Gateway Academy prepares students for the middle school Gateway to Technology pre-engineering curriculum. The PLTW Middle School program is called Gateway To Technology, consisting of nine-week, stand-alone units, which can be implemented in grades six through eight, as determined by each school. The curriculum exposes students to a broad overview of the field of technology. The units are:

•           Design and Modeling

•           The Magic of Electrons

•           The Science of Technology

•           Automation and Robotics

•           Flight and Space

If all 50 states would establish career technical education in their high schools based on the successful PLTW curriculum, we could eliminate the skills shortage of manufacturing workers within the next five to six years and prepare the next generation of manufacturing and biotech workers to ensure that we have enough skilled workers for manufacturers to employ as more and more companies return manufacturing to America from outsourcing offshore and replace the “baby boomers” as they retire over the next 20 years.

What Do American Manufacturers Owe Their Country?

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Last week The Economist conducted an on-line debate on the question:  Do multinational corporations have a duty to maintain a strong presence in their home countries? After a very intense written debate between Harry Moser, former president of GF AgieCharmilles  and founder of the Reshoring Initiative, and Jagdish Bhagwati, Professor of Economics and Law, Columbia University, the vote was 54% “yes,” and 46% “no.”

The moderator of the debate was Tamzin Booth, European business correspondent for The Economist, who introduced the topic by stating, “after the Great Recession, with high levels of unemployment persisting in rich countries, politicians are putting enormous pressure on firms to either keep operations at home or bring them back. The offshoring and outsourcing of work overseas have never been more unpopular. So strong is the backlash against firms which shift jobs abroad that many companies are choosing not to do it for fear of igniting a public outcry. And a “reshoring” trend, bringing factories home to America from China and elsewhere, is gathering pace and support from several American multinationals, including General Electric and Ford Motor Company.”

While Mr. Moser acknowledges that multinational corporations (MNCs) “have a responsibility to enhance shareholder return and obey relevant laws and regulations,” he believes that “MNCs also have a duty to maintain a strong presence in their country of origin,” which he defines “as investing, employing, manufacturing and sourcing at least in proportion to their sales in the origin country.”

He states, “This duty has two sources. The first is a quid pro quo for the special benefits that their charter provides. The second is based on understanding that a strong presence is almost always in the interest of their shareholders.”

In his pro argument for the first duty, Mr. Moser quotes Clyde Prestowitz: “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

This view is corroborated by a recent essay, “The American Corporation,” by Ralph Gomory and Richard Sylla, in which they provide a brief history of corporation formation in America. From 1790 to 1860, over 22,000 corporations were chartered under special legislative acts by states, and

several thousand more were chartered under general incorporation laws introduced in the 1840s and 1850s. These state granted charters were not perpetual and had to be renewed periodically, “with its “powers, responsibilities?including to the community?and basic governance provisions carefully specified.”

The essayists comment that general incorporation laws were the answer to the problem of corruption in legislative chartering, but created their own problems in the late 19th Century with the rise of “Robber Barons, both the business leaders who amassed great power and wealth in the rise of mass-production and mass-distribution industries, and the great financiers of Wall Street who collaborated with them.” The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of so few led to the passage of antitrust laws and corporate regulations at both the federal and state levels regulations in the 20th Century to prevent or rein in monopolies.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression resulted in a multitude of “New Deal” reforms and regulations on the corporate and financial sectors to protect and inform stockholders and the general public.

Gomory and Sylla write that for decades after WWII, “the problem of corporate goals seemed under control,” and “the interests of managers, stockholders workers, consumers and society seemed well aligned” while the U. S. and the Soviet Union were fighting a Cold War.

As late as 1981, the U. S. Business Roundtable issued a statement recognizing the stewardship obligations of corporations to society:  “Corporations have a responsibility, first of all, to make available to the public quality goods and services at fair prices, thereby earning a profit that attracts investment to continue and enhance the enterprise, provide jobs, and build the economy.” In addition, “The long-term viability of the corporation depends upon its responsibility to the society of which it is a part. And the well being of society depends upon profitable and responsible business enterprises.”

Establishing plants in another country in order to do business in that country and be closer to your customers is a reasonable business decision for many companies whose products are sold globally, such as Coca Cola and other food and beverage manufacturers. I concur with Mr. Moser’s statement. “We do not question multinational companies’ right to invest offshore.” However, it is another thing to transfer all or most of the manufacturing of your products to be sold mainly in the U. S. market to another country, at the cost of hundreds, if not thousands, of American jobs.

This brings us to Mr. Moser’s second pro argument to the question; namely, “a strong presence is almost always in the interest of their shareholders.” He states that his experience with the Reshoring Initiative’s free Total Cost of Ownership Estimator™ has shown that “in their excessive focus on offshoring of manufacturing, many MNCs make suboptimal decisions, actually reducing the long-term return to their shareholders. Thus many MNCs will more fully maximise returns for shareholders if they maintain a stronger presence.”

This is because most MNCs do not accurately measure the “Total Cost of Ownership” or “landed costs” in making decisions regarding where to manufacture their products. They ignore the “hidden costs” of doing business offshore about which I have written extensively in my book , such as:  quality problems, legal liabilities, currency fluctuations, travel expenses, difficulty in making design changes, time and effort to manage offshore contract, and cost of inventory.

In addition, Mr. Moser states that the behaviors of MNCs include:

  • “Ignoring a whole range of medium-term risks: IP loss; impact on innovation; and loss of competence and control due to increasing reliance on offshore outsourcing firms. The further a firm is removed from the manufacturing of its products, the harder it is to evolve and make future related products.
  • Ignoring longer-term catastrophic risks associated with shifting their presence offshore, including the decline in American economic, technological and military strength: risk of losing sales and assets in developing countries, especially when competing with local state-owned enterprises (SOEs); loss of the government-funded R&D that gives them a head start in many technologies; loss of strong origin-country defence and legal systems that protect the corporate charter; loss of “Pax Americana” that protects their trade around the world; and populist calls for anti-MNC political actions resulting from income inequality driven by a shriveling middle class.”

One important risk that Mr. Moser did not mention is the risk of theft of Intellectual Property by offshore manufacturers, especially in China. For many years, China has been doing this by reverse engineering, counterfeiting, and cyber espionage, but it has been made easier in the past two years by the mandatory technology transfer required by the Chinese government for corporations who set up plants in China.

In his con argument, Professor Bhagwati asserts that global sourcing and locating plants around the world has happened already, and “there is little point in tilting at reality.” He states, “Multinationals’ products, after all, can now hardly even be defined as American, French or any other nationality when their parts come from every corner of the world. All that matters, he argues, is that worldwide operations bring profits to the multinational, thereby benefiting the country in which it is headquartered. , “MNC investment abroad is good, not bad, for America unless it is a result of distorting tax policies that lead to overinvestment abroad. Asking MNCs to have a presence at home, and subsidising or forcing them under threat of penalties to do so, makes little sense unless you claim that this presence produces some externalities…the benefits to the MNC, and hence to America most likely, will accrue regardless of where the MNC does R&D, in Bangalore or Boston.”

In is rebuttal, Professor Bhagwati states, “Compelling an American MNC to retain a strong presence in America would be the wrong prescription no matter which of the two rationales you accept…Forcing them to produce at home when that makes them uncompetitive in world markets is surely the wrong prescription: it makes them uncompetitive in markets which today are fiercely competitive.

While I realize and have written about the fact that American manufacturers are under a disadvantage in dealing with countries like China that practice “predatory mercantilism,” it is my opinion that American multinational and national manufacturing corporations have more than a “duty to maintain a strong presence in their home countries.” As American citizens, we “pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Thus, we owe “allegiance” to our country, which is defined as “the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government.” Other synonyms are:  fidelity, faithfulness, adherence, and devotion.

Obviously, if you are a loyal, faithful, devoted citizen of the United States this means that you take actions in your personal and business life to support your country and do not purposely take actions that may cause harm to your country. Moving a majority of manufacturing to other countries, especially China is doing harm to your country since China has a written plan to replace the United States as the world’s super power. Therefore, American multinational corporations and other American manufacturers owe allegiance to the United States of America by maintaining a strong presence in our country.


How Some Manufacturers are Successful in Competing Globally

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

While attending the FABTECH Expo in Las Vegas last month, I interviewed several companies that all or the majority of their manufacturing in the U. S. to find out what they are doing to successfully compete in the global marketplace.

The first company was Laserstar Technologies, located Riverside, RI, and I interviewed Peter Tkocz, Regional Sales Mgr., southwestern States. Laserstar makes laser welding and marking equipment using the “free-moving” concept they development, enabling users to eliminate costly fixturing devices, benefit from pin-point accuracy, increase the range of assembly and repair applications and minimize the potential hazards of heat damage. Peter told me that the company is 55 years old and started making jewelry. When jewelry making went overseas in the 1990s, he said that the company had to reinvent itself and get into new markets to survive. They set a goal to enhance the quality, performance, and innovation of their products, programs and services on a continuing basis and became a “lean” manufacturing company.

Since, then, they have developed a diverse customer base of six major markets:

  • Medical – cardiac pacemakers, defibrillators, guide wires, catheters, hearing aids, orthodontic appliances, prosthetics and surgical tools
  • Dental – crowns and bridges, partial and implant fabrication and repair.
  • Electronics – a wide variety of different materials, component parts or final assemblies
  • Aerospace
  • Micro technology – wide range complex applications for laser welding and marking
  • Tool and die repair – ideal for modifications and repairs on molds, tools and dies as the process is quick, precise and will not damage surrounding surfaces.
  • Jewelry – a fast fix to repair jewelry and eyeglasses, and their new Fiber star machine can weld down to 12 microns, which is critical for high-end gem stones

LaserStar’s Research & Development laboratory is focused on inventing new technologies that change markets and create business opportunities, utilizing input from customers. Laserstar sells through learning centers vs. distributors, and the three learning centers at their headquarters in Rhode Island, California, and Florida. Their laser education courses provide a solid foundation of fundamental laser welding and laser marking skill sets to immediately gain a revenue impact for the new or existing iWeld, LaserStar or FiberStar laser welding or laser engraving system.

I next interviewed Dan Moiré, Sr. V. P. Sales of TRYSTAR, located in Faribault, Minnesota. TRYSTAR is a leading domestic manufacturer and international distributor of portable and permanent power solutions, industrial cables and power accessories. The company began operations as Bridgewater Tech, an industrial cable wholesaler founded in 1991. It wasn’t long before they realized there was room for innovation and improvement in the safety and performance of the products they were selling. As a result, they began manufacturing their own welding and grounding cables under the TRYSTAR brand in 1993.

As the superiority of TRYSTAR cables became evident throughout the industry, they expanded operations to offer customers greater versatility and reliability in the field, and as the brand became well known, the company transitioned from Bridgewater Tech to TRYSTAR.

Dan Said that today, TRYSTAR offers a wide range of capabilities specifically designed with the end-user in mind. They provide efficient, customized solutions, made with only the highest quality raw materials, manufactured on site, and serviced by their own professionals. Their factory is as vertically integrated as possible, and they provide customers with a full range of professionally packaged industrial products and services. They even extrude their own cable and do sheet metal fabrication and welding in-house.

TRYSTAR was the first to…

  • introduce sequential foot-marking to the welding cable industry, reducing the chance of waste
  • introduce custom-printed, colored cable, reducing the chance of theft on the job site
  • market a color-coded, insulated inner safety liner, designed to alert the cable’s user to any damage or wear and minimize problems in the field
  • produce a true Arctic weather cable that remains flexible to -57°C
  • introduce an improved clear-sheathed grounding cable that is flexible from -40°C to +105°C, allowing for safer grounding of high power lines during outages
  • introduce environmentally responsible, recyclable packaging for cable products
  • provide direct-to-market, completely assembled cable products, with unique and specific job identifiers, delivered directly to the job site

Kevin Duhamel, Product Sales Mgr at Gorbel was my next interview. Gorbel has over 30 years experience providing overhead handling solutions to customers in a wide range of industries. They have a comprehensive line of Crane Technology products, including work station bridge cranes, patented track cranes, I-beam jib cranes, gantries, and work station jib cranes. They also have an exciting line of Ergonomic Lifting products, featuring our G-Force® Intelligent Lifting Device, our Easy Arm® Intelligent Lifting Arm, and our G-Jib®. Their newest line, Tether Track Fall Arrest Safety Systems, provides a turnkey fall protection solution that exceeds OSHA safety standards. –

They have been in business since 1977 and are the largest U. S. manufacturer of lifting devices and cranes. Kevin said that their G-Force unit can lift up to 1320 lbs with higher speed and precision than chain hoists. They have two manufacturing plants in the U. S. – Fishers, NY and Pell City, AL – and sell to Europe, Canada, Mexico, and South America from their U. S. plant. They have a plant in Tianjin, China to market to customers such as John Deere and Caterpillar that have plants in China. About 90% of their business comes from North America and Mexico. They are very vertically integrated and qualified to have their product stickers say “Made in USA.”

I met and spoke to several of the top executives at TigerStop, located in Vancouver, WA, including president and founder Spencer Dick. Spencer founded TigerStop in 1994 and focuses on developing new product lines and enhancing their current products to simplify production processes for their customers.

TigerStop® LLC, is the global leader in stop/gauge and pusher systems that includes precision measuring systems, saws, and material handling equipment. National Sales Mgr., Erland Russell, told me that their products can easily integrate with most machinery used in the woodworking, metal, fenestration and plastics industries. He said that one of their models can measure and precisely saw material up to 20 ft. in length. TigerStop maintains an aggressive research and development program with over 100 patents awarded or pending.

TigerStop’s manufacturing is very vertically integrated in their Vancouver plant, but they also have an additional manufacturing and distribution facility in Wierden, Netherlands. The TigerStop distribution network spans six continents and their products are supported in five languages. TigerStop provides world-class customer support through experienced service technicians, on-going dealer training, and online technical resources.

Next, I interviewed Mike Albrecht, National Sales Mgr., at the Scotchman Industries booth. Scotchman Industries, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of metal fabrication equipment, accessories, and custom tools, such as ironworkers, cold saws, band saws, tube and pipe notchers, and measuring systems for nearly half a century.

Art Kroetch founded Scotchman Industries in the early 1960s to make and sell farm-related products, such as pickup stock racks, corral panels, gates and chutes. In 1966, Scotchman Industries purchased the patent for a hydraulic ironworker, the first machine of its kind in the world, and began manufacturing ironworkers. This machine, using hydraulic pressure, created up to a 35-ton force that could punch, bend and shear metal.

In 1978, Scotchman Industries purchased Excel Manufacturing Ltd. of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and was able to provide a line of ironworkers that ranged from 30-ton to 90-ton capacities for the world market. Today, Scotchman Industries, Inc. has a complete line of thirteen different ironworkers, ranging in capacities from 45 to 150 tons, with component tool design, and a fully integrated European style; both are available in either single or dual operator models. Scotchman has successfully acquired and maintained a large portion of the ironworker market.

Scotchman Industries is proud to be an American manufacturer who has always been export-minded. The company was given the President’s “E” Certificate for Exports in 1981 by the Secretary of Commerce, for excellence in its increased exporting of products. Today Scotchman Industries continues to export their products to many countries around the world.

Scotchman is located in Philip, SD; Mike said that all of their products are manufactured in the USA. They have donated equipment to the Workshops for Warriors located here in San Diego, CA.

Finally, I interviewed Heather Gaynor, Marketing Communications Mgr., at Swagelok, located in Solon, OH. Swagelok is a privately-held company that manufactures designs, manufactures, and delivers an expanding range of the highest quality fluid system products and solutions, such as tube fittings, valves, regulators, hoses and other products that are vital to fluid system solutions in industries such as power generation, oil and gas production, chemical processing, biopharmaceutical, research, semi-conductor manufacturing and more. They manufacture everything in the U. S. and are very vertically integrated.

Swagelok products and services are delivered locally through a network of more than 200 authorized sales and service centers that support customers in 57 countries on six continents.

While the products and services of the companies I interviewed are quite different, there are common threads:

  • All of the products are sold to other businesses (referred to as B-B) instead of to consumers.
  • The products fill specific needs and requirements of other manufacturers.
  • All of the companies manufacture their products in America.
  • The companies export their products to other companies

In addition, three of the six companies are privately held so that that management isn’t under the pressure to maximize quarterly profits and can focus on long-term company goals.

What this shows is that American manufacturers with unique products that satisfy customers’ needs can compete successfully in business-to-business global markets where the predatory mercantilist countries of China, Korea and India haven’t targeted to take over the market and destroy their American competition. If American manufacturers truly had a level playing field provided by “smart” trade agreements instead of the current lopsided, dumb agreements we have in place now, they would be able to compete successfully in the global marketplace. It is time to address the predatory mercantilist practices of these countries. Designating China as a currency manipulator would be a good start!


ITIF Report Details 50 Policies to Improve U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Last week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report titled, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Competitiveness Woes Behind: A National Traded Sector Competitiveness Strategy,” by Stephen Ezell and Robert Atkinson in which they stated, “A comprehensive strategy aimed at strengthening U.S. establishments competing in global markets is needed for the United States to boost short-term recovery and long-term prosperity…”

“The United States is increasingly isolated in its belief that countries don’t compete with one another and that only firms compete” said ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell, co-author of the report. “Our traded sector establishments are up against competitors that are aided in countless ways by their governments. It’s time to level the playing field.”

The report, presents 50 federal-level policy recommendations to help restore U.S. traded sector competitiveness, along with 13 state-level recommendations. The recommendations are organized around federal policies regarding the “4Ts” of technology, tax, trade, and talent, as well as policies to increase access to capital, reform regulations, and better assess U.S. traded sector competitiveness.

A nation’s traded sector includes industries such as manufacturing, software, engineering and design services, music, movies, video games, farming, and mining, which compete in international marketplaces and whose output is sold at least in part to nonresidents of the nation. They are the core engine of U.S. economic growth and face unique challenges.

Because these industries face competition in the global market that non-traded, local-serving industries (retail trade or personal services) do not, their success is riskier. “The health of U.S. traded sector enterprises in industries such as semiconductors, software, machine tools, or automobiles—all far more exposed to global competition than local-serving firms and industries—cannot be taken for granted.”

If a company like Boeing loses market share to Airbus, thousands of domestic jobs at Boeing, its suppliers, and the companies at which their employees spend money will be lost. In contrast, a local grocery store may compete for business with other supermarkets, but it is not threatened by international competition. If Safeway loses market share to Wal-Mart, the jobs remain in the United States.

Ezell and Atkinson state, “The fact that the U.S. traded sector has not created a single net new job in 20 years is a core reason for the current U.S. economic malaise.” They cite the research of Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence, who has demonstrated that “from 1990 until the Great Recession started in 2007, the U.S. achieved virtually no growth in traded sector jobs. The malaise has been a downright decline in manufacturing, as the United States lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing workforce in the previous decade, saw on net over 66,000 manufacturing establishments close, accrued a trade deficit in manufactured products of over $4 trillion, and experienced a decline in manufacturing output of 11 percent at a time when U.S. GDP increased by 11 percent (when measured properly).”

Ezell and Atkinson corroborate what I have written previously ? “every lost manufacturing job has meant the loss of an additional two to three jobs throughout the rest of the economy. The 32 percent loss of manufacturing jobs was a central cause of the country’s anemic overall job performance during the previous decade, when the U.S. economy produced, on net, no new jobs….at the rate of growth in manufacturing jobs that occurred in 2011, it would take until at least 2020 for employment to return to where the economy was in terms of manufacturing jobs at the end of 2007.”

The reasons why the authors emphasize the importance of manufacturing as a “traded sector” are:

  • It will be difficult for the U. S. to balance its foreign trade without a robust manufacturing sector because manufacturing accounts for 86 percent of U.S. goods exports and 60 percent of total U.S. exports.
  • Manufacturing remains a key source of jobs that both pay well.
  • Each manufacturing job supports as an average of 2.9 other jobs in the economy.
  • The average wages in U.S. high technology are 86 percent higher than the average of other private sector wages.
  • Manufacturing, R&D, and innovation go hand-in-hand.
  • The manufacturing sector accounts for 72 percent of all private sector R&D spending.
  • Manufacturing employs 63 percent of domestic scientists and engineers.
  • U.S. manufacturing firms demonstrate almost three times the rate of innovation as U.S. services firms.
  • Manufacturing is vital to U.S. national security and defense.

They contend that “the engines of a nation’s competitiveness are in fact not mom and pop small businesses, but rather firms in traded sectors, high-growth entrepreneurial companies, and U.S.-headquartered multinational corporations. Although such firms comprise far less than 1 percent of U.S. companies, they account for about 19 percent of private-sector jobs, 25 percent of private-sector wages, 48 percent of goods exports, and 74 percent of nonpublic R&D investment. And, since 1990, they have been responsible for 41 percent of the nation’s increase in private labor productivity.”

The report notes that “traded sector businesses improve the local economy in three ways:

  1. Traded sector businesses bring money into a region by selling to people and businesses outside the region.
  2. They help keep local money at home through import substitution, which occurs when local residents and businesses purchase locally produced products instead of importing goods and services.
  3. They improve economic equity since “their productivity and market size tends to lead them to offer higher wage levels” and “jobs at traded sector companies help anchor a region’s middle class employment base by providing stable, living wage jobs for residents.”

While the authors believe all 50 recommendations are needed, they believe the 10 most critical recommendations are:

  1. Create a network of 25 “Engineering and Manufacturing Institutes” performing applied R&D across a range of advanced technologies.
  2. Support the designation of at least 20 U.S. “manufacturing universities.”
  3. Increase funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).
  4. Increase R&D tax credit generosity and make the R&D tax credit permanent.
  5. Institute an investment tax credit on purchases of new capital equipment and software.
  6. Develop a national trade strategy and increase funding for U.S. trade policymaking and enforcement agencies.
  7. Fully fund a nationwide manufacturing skills standards initiative.
  8. Expand high-skill immigration, particularly which focuses on the traded sector.
  9. Transform Fannie Mae into an industrial bank.
  10. Require the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to incorporate a “competitiveness screen” in its review of federal regulations.

Only two of their top 10 recommendations made the list of the most critical recommendations in the second edition of my book:  # 4 and # 10. However, I support all of their other top 10 recommendations, as well as many of their other 40 recommendations, especially the following:

  • Lower the effective U. S. corporate tax rate – As of April 1, 2012 (when Japan lowered its corporate tax rate), the United States took the mantle of having the highest statutory corporate tax rate at almost 39 percent (when state and federal rates are combined) of any OECD nation.
  • Combat foreign currency manipulation
  • Better support and align trade promotion programs to boost U. S. exports.
  • Better promote reshoring.

I also support their recommendation that Congress should broaden the R&D tax credit’s scope to make it clear that process R&D (R&D to develop better ways of making things) qualifies for the tax incentive and that Congress should expand the R&D credit to allow expenditures on employee training to count as qualified expenditures.

With regard to trade enforcement, they recommend that the U. S. “exclude mercantilist countries from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)” because “the top 20 GSP-beneficiary countries — Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela—are on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List (which documents countries that fail to adequately protect U.S. companies’ or individuals’ intellectual property rights).”

I believe that enacting legislation to address foreign currency manipulation by China in particular should be in their top 10 recommendations. I also recommend that we enact legislation to establish either a Natural Strategic Tariff as recommended by economist Ian Fletcher in his book Free Trade Doesn’t Work:  What Should Replace It and Why, or a Balanced Trade Restoration Act to authorize sale of Import Certificates using either the Warren Buffet plan or the Richmans plan (as explained in their book Trading Away our Future).

I completely disagree with their recommendation to “Forge new trade agreements, including a high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Partnership.” As documented by Alan Uke in his book, Buying Back America, the U. S. has a trade deficit with nearly every single one of the countries with which it has a trade agreement. In fact, the U. S. has a trade deficit with 66 countries, the most egregious being the $278 billion deficit with China. Remember the touted benefits of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico? Well, in 2010, we had a trade deficit with Canada of $28 billion and $66 billion with Mexico. Do we want to increase our current trade deficit by adding more trading partners?

Additionally, the report articulates four key themes that the authors believe should be viewed as essential components of a U.S. traded sector competitiveness strategy. They recommend that the following key themes must be embraced by U.S. policymakers if the United States is to restore its traded sector competitiveness (summarized):

  1. The federal government must place strategic focus on its traded sectors, because it simply can’t rely entirely on its non-traded sectors to sustainably power the U.S. economy.
  2. The United States needs become much more of an engineering economy because gains from engineering-based innovation are capturable and appropriable within nations.
  3. The United States must move toward an economic system more focused on production than consumption, giving short-term consumption less priority in our politics.
  4. The structure of the global trading system must be seriously restructured to ensure that it is a trading system based on market-oriented principles and not the “innovation mercantilism” that has risen in the last decade, which fundamentally hurts the U.S. competitive position while violating the spirit and often the letter of the World Trade Organization.

Beyond federal policies to support traded sector competitiveness as a nation, the report also includes a section on recommended policies that states should implement to bolster their competitiveness, and in turn, the competitiveness of the broader U.S. economy. The state policy recommendations utilize the same “4Ts” framework as the federal recommendations.

Ezell and Atkinson state, “Implementing the policies recommended in this report will make the United States a more attractive investment environment for traded sector enterprises and their establishments. The technology policies will help spur innovation in advanced manufacturing, upgrade the technology capacity of manufacturing and other traded sector firms, help restore America’s industrial commons, and support the productivity, innovation, and competitiveness of traded sector SMEs. The tax policies will stimulate a favorable climate for private sector investment by making the overall U.S. corporate tax code more competitive with that of other nations and also by leveraging tax policy to incent private sector R&D and investment.”

In conclusion, they urge that U.S. policymakers understand that “manufacturing is not some low-value-added industry to be cavalierly abandoned.” Manufacturing is vital to U.S. competitiveness. I highly recommend reading all of this comprehensive, well-researched, well-documented report to be able to evaluate all of their recommendations and benefit from the details that are the basis for each recommendation.

Will the AME, NAM and NACFAM Alliance Revitalize Manufacturing?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) is joining with leading organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the National Council For Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM) to form an alliance to revitalize manufacturing and grow the economy, while improving the standard of living of all citizens in North America.  These organizations are inviting public and private sectors to come together to build on the NAM study, A Manufacturing Renaissance: Four Goals for Economic Growth.

The AME white paper “Challenges Facing the Manufacturing Industry…” states “The strategy calls for putting people, schools, businesses and the government to work; producing literate career-ready citizens capable of joining the workforce; and enabling manufacturers to once again lead the designing, building and exporting of quality products and services around the globe.” The top three priorities are:

  • Build a better educated and trained workforce
  • Promote product and process innovation, as well as research and development
  • Improve global competitiveness for companies

AME advocates that each priority “must be considered in developing public policies that support the revitalization of the manufacturing sector, and policy-makers must consider these elements in shaping future public policy and legislation.”   The goal is to help companies and our education systems transform themselves by using more innovative processes to become more competitive to put people back to work in making things in America.

I  strongly agree with AME’s viewpoint that we need to revitalize American manufacturing because “manufacturing is very critical to economic growth, prosperity and a higher standard of living.”  This is because manufacturing jobs have a multiplier effect-? every manufacturing job creates three to four other jobs.  Manufacturing creates more wealth than any other sector in the economy.  “Manufacturing pays higher wages and provides greater benefits, on average, than other industries. It performs almost two-thirds of private sector research and development, creates the highest number of jobs to support the industry while serving the surrounding communities, and contributes to more than 50 percent of the country’s total exports.”

The White Paper notes that we’ve lost nearly six million manufacturing jobs in the United States since January 2000, for an average of about 54,000 per month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  We also lost 56,190 manufacturing facilities from 2001 to 2010, or about 15 per day.

AME has issued a call for action to policy-makers, industry professionals and academic leaders to play critical roles in revitalizing the economy through the rebirth of manufacturing jobs.  To do this, we need to ensure the supply of educated citizens, necessary physical infrastructure, and a favorable tax and regulatory framework that fosters increased collaboration between public and private sector partners.

AME has been leading the “Revitalization of Manufacturing” initiative, wherein AME and their allied organizations have been reaching out to policy-makers nationwide, and encouraging them to join or develop efforts focusing on local and state job creation.  AME states that “itt is imperative that policy-makers recognize the importance of an industry that has been the backbone of the North American economy.  To date, AME has received more than 400 signatures of support from state and federal policy-makers, industry trade associations and operations executives representing manufacturers across North America.”

AME advocates “a renewed emphasis on making businesses more competitive by developing the educational and training infrastructure to produce qualified individuals to fill these new opportunities.”   To accomplish these initiatives, AME is joining with leading organizations to adopt the three priorities by:

Reforming public education to produce career ready citizens – Parents, teachers and business leaders need to recognize that other nations are both out-educating us and out-competing us.  Some of the ongoing initiatives by manufacturing organizations to help reform public education are:

  • The Manufacturing Institute’s Roadmap to Education Reform for Manufacturing, a comprehensive blueprint for education reform
  • American Productivity and Quality Center’s (APQC) Education North Star program that helps school districts do more with less by transforming education through process and performance management
  • Career Pathways,  a program that encourages students to consider a career in manufacturing and help prepare them by using the Manufacturing Pathway Map

Last fall, I wrote about a number of programs sponsored by other organizations to interest and prepare youth for careers in manufacturing in the article, “How Can we Attract Youth to Manufacturing Careers?

Establishing consortiums of like-minded individuals with the same mission to help sustain and grow businesses through sharing technology and innovative ideas.  AME recommends that businesses “grow a culture that achieves results through engaging their people” to “develop pragmatic, working-level leaders who can pull it all together.”  In addition, businesses “need to foster rapid advancement of technology and innovation by establishing regional consortiums to help bring jobs back home.”

“AME Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati Consortium is the first building block of the AME Consortia network, and the organizations plans to deploy at least 10 more in 2012.  AME also has alliance partners, like the Virginia Business Excellence Consortium.”

Reshoring by making better informed business decisions  to keep and bring jobs back home – the Reshoring Initiative was founded by Harry Moser in 2010.  He is collaborating with AME to promote reshoring as part of the “Revitalization of Manufacturing” initiative.  AME recommends that companies use the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis tool Mr. Moser developed “to effectively compare total cost of local and offshore sources, enabling them to make informed business decisions. ‘We are committed to changing the sourcing paradigm from ‘off-shored is cheaper’ to ‘local reduces the total cost of ownership,’ said Moser.”

Redeploying Training Within Industry (TWI) programs to train or retrain workers to have the skills to work in advanced manufacturing jobs to revitalize manufacturing and re-energize the economy.  First created during WWII to replace workers who left the factories and went off to war, the TWI programs were revived in 2001 by the Central New York Technology Development Organization, a member of the U.S. Manufacturers Extension Partnership (MEP), after which the TWI Institute was formed to oversee the global deployment of the program.

AME’s White Paper only identifies the TWI programs, but I wrote about training programs sponsored by other organizations, such as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Tooling U and The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International in my article, ”What’s Being Done to Address the Lack of Skilled Workers?

In order to be more globally competitive, AME recommends that companies use Lean Certification, an internationally recognized certification process developed by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), AME, Shingo Prize, and the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which establishes the standard for continuous improvement and Lean practices.

The White Paper states that at its 2012 national board meeting, “AME reaffirmed its commitment to helping small-and medium-sized businesses create more manufacturing jobs, and the organization’s strategic plans address the challenges facing manufacturing by formulating counter-measurements to address them with its public and private alliance partners.”

In conclusion, the White Paper states, …the public and private sectors must come together to build an integrated plan supportive of these initiatives, especially NAM’s Manufacturing Strategy for Jobs and Competitiveness and Roadmap to Education Reform for Manufacturing; the LEARN Act; and the Reshoring Initiative.  These will ultimately revitalize the industry and grow the economy.”

I have repeatedly said in my book and blog articles that it will take the efforts of the public and private sectors, as well as individual Americans, to first save and then revitalize American manufacturing.  I agree that these strategies will be beneficial, but they will not be enough to accomplish this goal.   First of all, I do not agree that the challenges to accomplish this goal are the “four major challenges on which its future depends and has been failing to meet… globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits and its pattern of energy consumption” that are quoted from Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book, That Used to Be Us, How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.

These are all realities that must be addressed, but they are not the main challenges that face America’s manufacturing industry.  The main challenge can be summed up in one word:  China.  By this I mean China’s predatory mercantilism in the form of currency manipulation, export subsidies, theft of intellectual property, product “dumping,” export restrictions on raw materials, and more recently, technology transfer and rare earth hoarding.

As long as companies that are members of AME, NAM, and NACFAM, such as Westinghouse, General Electric, and Caterpillar, choose to close factories in the United States to offshore manufacturing to China for the illusion of selling to the 1.3 billion Chinese consumers, we will continue to lose manufacturing jobs.

As long as these organizations and their member companies advocate so-called free trade policies and are afraid to stand up to China’s predatory mercantilism and urge our elected officials to demand that China adhere to the terms of its admission into the World Trade Organization, our huge trade deficits will continue to escalate.

These companies must stop being Chinese apologists and appeasers just to add more profit to their bottom line.  They need to realize that complying with China’s demand for technology transfer in order to build or establish a plant in China is destroying the future of their own companies.

Now is the time for action.  The best thing that AME, NAM and NACFAM members could do is to take a pledge to not close any more plants in the U. S. to set up manufacturing in China.  Then, we would really be able to revitalize American Manufacturing.