The Michigan Manufacturing and Technology Association (MMTA) launched last month to help the state’s smallest manufacturers become more competitive and prosperous.
The organization started as a partnership of several existing organizations, including the Small Business Association of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, Cassopolis-based Edward Lowe Foundation, Benton Harbor-based Kinexus Group, lobbying firm Midwest Strategy Group, the American Society of Employers, Change Agents Consulting Inc. and Upskill Enterprises.
Duane Berger, executive director of the Benton Harbor-based MMTA, spoke with MiBiz to discuss how the newly created organization will find resources, provide practical solutions and discover the unmet needs of this large group of small manufacturing employers.
What kind of support do Michigan manufacturers need today?
We’re focused mainly on the small manufacturer and the folks who are trying to grow their business and deliver the products that their entrepreneurial spirit led them to. They struggle with finding some of the basic skills of how do you grow, all the way from HR practices to legal practices to some data usage to executive development, economic gardening. Even the technology side and understanding cybersecurity, understanding some of the basic diagnostic opportunities for being more efficient. It all depends where they’re at and what stage they’re in. They wear a multitude of hats, so they don’t have a lot of time to go research and vet these opportunities. The association will do that for them.
Why is that focus important right now?
Most of the companies that we’re going to work with are probably a hundred or fewer employees. Interestingly enough, that’s about 88 percent of the manufacturing companies in the state of Michigan. Every person in the company is probably doing multiple jobs at one time and not focused on any one of those resource areas that we’re talking about.
What’s the differentiation between the MMTA and other manufacturing industry groups that have been around for a while?
There are some good associations out there. We’re not trying to compete with anybody. We’re not trying to take anybody’s business or members away from them. We think we’re filling a void, based on what we’ve heard from the small manufacturers. We’re not trying to seek the big guys, because there is a lot of good representation from other associations. We’re just trying to offer a service that the small guys don’t seem to get elsewhere, because they’re not the focus of some of the other associations.
You included the word “technology” in the association’s name. Was that a strategic move?
Yes. For this smaller manufacturer to grow, technology is probably going to be a key element. It was strategic in the sense that we think many of these small guys probably haven’t focused on how they can deliver technology, how they can incorporate it and maybe don’t even think they can afford it. In reality, the cost of technology has been dropping and there are opportunities for some of these small folks. Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center out of Plymouth is one of our partners and they will be bringing a lot of diagnostics, assessments and consultations on how they help people to convert from everything manual to technology integration.
In addition to technology and the rise of Industry 4.0, what is it about this moment in time that makes you want to grow this organization?
I don’t know if there’s ever a perfect time to start something. We see that the economy is still good and the smaller businesses are taking orders galore and are as busy as they can be. We want to help them stay busy and grow while it’s an opportune time, and if it does drop at some point in time, they’re prepared for it. Based on the need we heard, we felt it was time to go ahead and launch it and let them take advantage of the market the way it is, in case it does turn somewhere.
In West Michigan, we’re hearing about the need for a younger generation of entrepreneurs and owner-operators who will take over for people who are retiring so those smaller operations can avoid being consolidated into larger companies. Are you recruiting members who are looking for those opportunities or are you focused more on manufacturers who have been around the block?
It’s a mix. We’re hearing all kinds of reasons people need us. Perhaps they may need succession planning and we’ll be set up to help them get the resources they need. Maybe it’s not a family transfer, maybe it’s just some other kind of transfer of management, but succession planning is a big piece of it.
Some of the younger guys are just new into their businesses. We have one person that just joined last week who is just starting his business, isn’t quite sure where to start, has a great idea, but doesn’t know how to deliver it. We’ve got others who have more orders than they have productivity, and to that extent, they’re trying to figure out how they can deliver these orders because they don’t want to turn away an opportunity to grow their business. They’re looking for efficiencies and lean technologies and things they can use.
It sounds like you’re doing a lot of listening at this point. Will most of your partnerships or development opportunities be initiated by communication with your membership?
We have partnerships in place and that was the strategy to have that group of skills. But we’re getting through referrals and through some cold calls and otherwise attracting people in and it’s a process of listening. It’s one of our engagement people going in and listening to what they need, and if we’ve got the partner to deliver it, we’re ready to deliver. If we don’t have the partner, we’ll go find it. We’re trying to fill the void of demand that we hear out there and offer very specialized service to people that’s based on what they define as the need, not a cookie-cutter (solution).