Posts Tagged ‘American manufacturing’

Lean Leadership Summit Focuses on Essentials to Becoming a Lean Company

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

After being delayed for a few weeks because of Hurricane Irma, Lean Frontiers held its annual Lean Accounting Summit in Savannah, GA on October 24th and 25th.  This was my fourth year to be invited as a speaker at the conference. This year’s summit was different in that the Lean Accounting Summit was combined with Lean Management and Lean People Development into Lean Leadership to include the people development aspect of being a lean enterprise. Co-founder Dwayne Butcher, said, “It’s about time that the whole enterprise be involved in becoming a Lean company. Lean is a business model and must therefore include every part of the business, including those in Executive Leadership, Accounting, HR, Sales, Product Development, Supply Chain. We need to breakdown the silos between these departments.”

Between the keynote speakers, there were three tracks related to Lean Management, Lean Accounting, and Lean People Development.  Besides giving my own presentation, “Rebuild Manufacturing – the key to American Prosperity,” based on my new book of the same name, I attended all of the keynotes and some of the sessions in the Lean Management and Lean Accounting tracks.

Lean Frontiers is not a consulting firm. Its sole focus is to provide learning opportunities to address:  Enterprise?wide adoption of Lean and the foundational skills needed by Lean companies. Dwayne announced a new program, the Lean Learning Pod, that will be taught by Jean Cunningham on Lean accounting. Participating companies will meet in a virtual manner on a regular basis, and Jean will be a mentor to the companies.

Jim Huntzinger, said, “The first Lean Accounting Summit was held in 2005, and out of that summit, Lean Frontiers was born.  Lean is still perceived as a program with short term results by too many, and we need to make the transition to Lean as a business model.  We need to traverse unclear territory — trust the process to go from current condition to the target position. We can use XYZ Thinking:  If we do X, then we will get Y, but if we get Z instead, then we will learn.”

He introduced the first keynote speaker, Art Byrne, former Wiremold CEO, author of Lean Turnaround and now a consultant. He has been practicing Lean since 1982 when he was a General Manager at a General Electric facility. He wrote his book and then wrote the Lean Turnaround Action Plan to show what would happen if a company becomes Lean. The reader is supposed to be management of fictitious company – United Gear & Housing.  He asked, “What is Lean?” His answer was, “It is strategy to run any business to remove waste to deliver more value to customers.”

He described United Gear as a traditional batch company with long set ups of 2-3 hour, a six-week lead time, and a strong management team.  The company is purchased, and the new owner make it clear that everything has to change to with Lean as the strategy.  They will have to:  lead from the top, transform people, increase gross by 5 – 7. Puts, reduce inventory by $70 M increase value, and reduce set up by 90%.  He said, “The present capacity = work + waste., and waste is typically 60%.  I particularly liked his comment. “Think about the stupidity of putting all the same machines in the same department as if the machines liked to be near each other. Instead, we should be putting the machines in the sequence of operations to be performed to go from batch to continuous flow. You could rearrange the machines into cells to go from raw material to finished product. Fewer people would be doing the work, and lead time could drop dramatically from 6 weeks to 2 days.”

He said the Wiremold strategy was to: “Constantly strengthen our base operations, achieve 100% on-time delivery, 50% reduction in defects every year, do 20 inventory turns/year, double in size every 3 to 5 years, use visual control and 5S, do one piece flow and standard work, do Kaizen, use a Pull system, and stretch targets.”

In his concluding comments, he said, “Standard cost accounting and lean don’t go together. The key is for senior management to function as one team.”

In her presentation on “Overcoming Barriers to WOW Results,” Cheryl Jekiel, CEO of the Lean Leadership Resource Center, said that the International Labour Organization for the United Nations asked her to develop and teach a class on Lean HR to be taught in 46 countries.  She had to develop the course for others to use to teach. In developing the course, she used the following working definition of Lean:

  • 7 common practices to improve
  • It’s about the customer
  • Measurable improvement
  • Problem Solving
  • Repeatable processes
  • Overall involvement
  • Visual management
  • Engaging leadership

She said, “HR can make the difference in the results. HR owns the things that are the obstacles. HR has a role in the culture of the company and can weave improvement into activities. HR owns talent strategies: hiring, training & Development, performance management, and reword systems. HR can build lean competencies into job design. The greatest is the waste of human development. Most companies don’t tsp into the power of their people. We define people by the tasks they do and not their capability. People are endlessly creative. The power of the ideas to solve problems is in people. Lean is about building a muscle — the more you do it the better you are at doing it. Lean is a way of expanding capability.  HR tends to engagement, and engagement goes with Lean. Studies show that companies are 7-11% more profitable when employees are engaged. Convert categories into dollars to make the connection of engagement into money.”

One of my favorite presenters is Jerry Solomon, who gave the presentation, “Bridging the Gap Between Accounting & Operations.” He spent 40 years in the manufacturing industry and is now retired in Naples, FL.  His last 14 years were at Barry-Wehmiller in St. Louis as CFO.

He said, “Lean is two pillars to eliminate waste in pursuit of perfection in safety, quality, delivery, and cost.  The two pillars are:  respect for people and continuous improvement. Inspirational leadership and a profound cultural and organizational change are required to become a Lean company. Elimination of waste is driven by Kaizen events, which need to be narrow and deep. The respect for people means no layoffs and requires strong C-level support.”

He explained, “Lean Accounting is using Lean tools in accounting and “plain English” P & Ls. Accounting is one of biggest roadblocks to successful Lean journey. Lean is about being a cash and capacity generator.  We need to change the metrics we use. In the traditional cost accounting pie, overhead is 10-20%, Direct labor is 60-70%, and materials are 20-30%. Today in Lean accounting, overhead is still 10-20%, direct labor is 10-20%, and materials are 60%.  Standard cost accounting is replaced by actual costs and can be understood by everyone. The benefit of Lean accounting is relevant information when you need it that is understandable to the 99% of people and not just the 1% who are accountants. It provides real-time information to run the business.”

On Wednesday, the keynote presentation was “The Continuous Improvement Engine” by David Veech, The Ohio State University, author of Leadersights and The C4 Process.

He said, “The foundation of the continuous improvement engine is trust. Two key things are required: clear expectations with standardized work and leader vulnerability and mastery. Challenges lead us to acquire knowledge and skills. It’s how we lead that sets our stretch goals. It’s a process that occurs with repetition. No one is in this alone, so we have accountability. Learning and coaching is required for mastery. The goal is to have a team of experts.”

He explained, “You need a system for problem solving to find out if ideas work – you can use PDCA, DMAIC, or my C4 system.”  He said, “C4 is short for Concern, Cause, Countermeasure, and Confirm. C4 offers straightforward, easy-to-remember techniques for identifying and solving workplace problems. These four steps-clearly identify the concern, find the true root cause, correct the cause with an effective countermeasure, and confirm that the solution worked.”

He added, “Problem solving builds mastery. Mastery results in self-efficacy, and people that have self-efficacy are willing to try new things and keep trying until they succeed. They need to have intrinsic motivation, which comes from the heart. This intrinsic motivation turns into ideas and generates initiative. The “exhaust” of this continuous improvement engine is:  satisfaction, meaning, awareness, and responsibility. Building relationships in teams is critical to the process.”

In the first breakout session, I attended “Eliminate Standard Cost Step by Step” by Nick Katco, author of the Lean CFO series. He told us that there is nothing in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that would prevent using Lean Accounting methods. He said, “In GAAP, you need to calculate inventory valuation and Cost of Goods Sold. Using Standard Cost Accounting, you often have to make assumptions whereas in Lean Accounting, you use “Actual expenses incurred to get goods in condition for sale. A major objective of accounting for inventories is the proper determination of income through the process of matching appropriate costs against revenues.  In the continuous nature of manufacturing, there are difficulties in matching specific costs to revenue because products not sold in same period as produced, prices change over time, and production costs change over time.”

He explained how to do a Lean Inventory Valuation for material and production cost capitalization using three different methods:  days of inventory, units of inventory, and days of conversion cost.  He said, “Lean transformation is designed reduce inventory levels in manufacturing companies — 30-60 days is good target. There is no GAAP requirement to value every single product. Average costs replace standard costs. Capitalize total costs, not individual products by a journal entry.”  In conclusion, he advised:  “Design a lean inventory valuation methodology which works for your company and partner with your auditor to create a methodology they will be able to test.”

I had to leave early on Wednesday to catch my plane, so the last presentation I attended was “Lean Transformation from the CFO’s Seat” by CFO  Pete Gingerich of Aluminum Trailer Company. Last year I attended a presentation by the President and CEO, Steve Brenneman, so I was interested in what Mr. Gingerich had to share about their Lean transformation. He said, “In 2007, we did $27 Million and went down to $10 Million in 2009. We had to lay off half of our employees. Steve Brenneman started in 2009, and our first steps were office procedures for handling work folders and then we did 5S on the shop floor. We had lots of problems with material shortages, so we went to a Kanban system. We split into three value streams in 2012 and now have six.”

He explained, “Our big change was in how we pay our workers; we switched from piece rate to hourly and started at a rate of 10% higher than previous year’s rate. We also instituted a profit sharing plan. We didn’t use standard cost accounting, but we did have assumptions for material, labor, and overheads. Now, we know the actual costs for each value stream. Value stream planning is clearer and easier.”

He added, “We thought that our custom trailer was the most profitable, but it is actually our midline model trailer because too many engineers are involved in our custom trailer.

We have an annual meeting for top management, quarterly meetings for managers, and weekly meetings for team leaders. We have switched to rolling forecasts from budgeting, and we do weekly production planning forecasts and weekly P & Ls. Each value stream has its own weekly P& L with more detail. Lean accounting is based on shop floor metrics. We avoid allocations because if you can’t control them, why do you want to see them. We can close a quarter in one day. We clarified the definition of sales and revenue so employees would understand. We have had to work with suppliers on our Kanban system to cut inventory, such as having tires on a rack that is replenished daily. In 2009, we only did five turns of inventory, but in 2016, we did 19 turns.”

It’s always a pleasure to hear about a successful transformation into a Lean company rather than just a Lean manufacturer. I am a big proponent of Lean accounting because standard cost accounting is the biggest obstacle to more companies returning manufacturing to America using Total Cost Analysis.  When costs are divided into separate accounts, the purchasing agents and buyers do not have access to all of actual and hidden costs to be able to do a true TCO analysis. More CFOs need to take the time to attend the Lean Accounting Summit or get training from one of the qualified consultants and learn how to convert to Lean accounting.

Innovation Spurs Growth in Piedmont Triad Region of North Carolina

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina Prepares for the Future through Training and Redevelopment

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina Rebounds from Effects of Offshoring and Recession

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nexans – high voltage underground and submarine cables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charleston Manufacturers Focus on Training Current and Future Workers

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.