The Great Lakes Manufacturing
Council is worth knowing about. Although it’s an organization whose members are
primarily other organizations, it can offer some immediate and direct benefits
to small manufacturers, while putting longer-term processes in place that could
have an important effect on the whole region.
I learned about the council
through a press release about the Great Lakes Manufacturing Forum, now (if my
arithmetic is correct) in its third year. I wasn’t able to attend, but I did
have an extended conversation with the council’s president, Ed Wolking, Jr.
The organization’s genesis dates
back to a meeting with Canadian officials Wolking attended in Detroit in 2005. At
that meeting it became clear that the states and provinces surrounding the
Great Lakes had a number of shared challenges, and that more collaboration and
less competition was in order. What evolved was the Great Lakes Manufacturing
Council, which has now become a tax-exempt organization (technically speaking,
a 501c3) with a fourfold mission.
Its first goal is revitalizing
the image of manufacturing, from “dumb, dirty, dull, dangerous and dying” to
“dynamic, advanced and ever-developing.” The second is fostering innovation in
both processes and products. The focus here is on adapting existing
capabilities to new products, and finding new markets for existing products.
Nurturing a more sophisticated
workforce, or, to use Wolking’s preferred term, talent base, is the third
objective. He gives an example from the small engine collaboration among
Chrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi. “Most of those workers have 2-year degrees,
and many of them have 4-year degrees. It’s not at all what you’d expect to find
in a factory.” But he believes that this is the kind of workforce America needs
in the factories of the future. “Building products that can be sold anywhere at
any quality level isn’t the future,” he argues.
To develop such a workforce, he
believes that standard certifications are necessary, backed up by high schools
and community colleges that teach to those certifications. The result would be
a skilled, appropriately educated workforce that reflected the needs of the
region. Development in this area is underway.
The forth objective has to do
with boarders and logistics. “It was tough enough before 9/11 [to get people
and goods across the U.S.-Canadian border],” says Wolking. “Now it’s even
“The truck drivers get it. They
know what to do to make crossing easier. The shippers don’t.” Those shippers
would be manufacturing companies, particularly smaller ones who aren’t familiar
with best practices, e.g. proper packaging and loading.
The good news: Early this fall,
the council will be publishing a list of tips to help small manufacturers minimize the hassle of cross-boarder shipping.
It will bee at www.greatlakesmanufacturing.org sometime in September.
The more sites we have to help
disseminate information that makes us competitive the better. Over time, the
council may provide more and more venues where manufacturers can meet
We need more collaboration.