Play Well with Others

Plays Well With Others

By Jeff Applegate

There is a lot of truth to the theory that much of what we need to be successful as adults we learned by the time we were two. How well we “play with others” is an indicator of our skills to consider and see value in others’ ideas, accept others’ opinions, share in their activities and learn from, grow with and gain benefit from working as a team.

I have been writing on the key attributes that have contributed to the success of a local manufacturing association. One of the questions we asked was why does the city of Houston need another association? There are so many good groups working to put on networking events, socials and educational programs. What we saw was many industry specific or special interest groups that were working to serve the community, train in professional development and provide networking opportunities. There was no common voice and consolidator of the entire manufacturing community.

Hunting in Packs

Hunt in a Pack

By Jeff Applegate


My father, who was a salesman in the steel business, used to tell me “nothing happens until you sell something.” Growing revenue and providing consistent work for our manufacturing operations is the primary responsibility of a business owner and manufacturing leader, and it is the principal driver of creating value in our companies.

When forming the Greater Houston Manufacturers Association, we opened our doors to our manufacturing neighbors and began getting to know each other, trading best practice and finding things we shared in common. We initially formed the organization around Houston’s Texas Medical Center. The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the United States and invests more than $2 billion annually in research and development. We learned that companies harvesting this technology were commercializing the products outside the state. When we asked why they did not do it in Houston, the answer was that Houston did not have the manufacturing resources to do the work that needed to be done. The fact is that the resources were and are in Houston, but the thousands of owner-operator manufacturing companies were silently operating in their own silos and few knew how broad and capable the resources were in our own backyard.

Time to Make a Friend

The Time to Make a Friend is Before You Need Them

By Jeff Applegate


As business owners or manufacturing leaders, we are where problems land when there is no clear or simple solution. When your machine goes down on Friday afternoon and you have a critical commitment for Monday morning, you need a friend. When you need to partner with another local manufacturer to win the contract with the big OEM, who can you trust to call? When you are in a bind and need a favor from another supplier, who will do whatever it takes to help you out?

These are the problems we tackle every day. It is why a group of Houston manufacturers began informally opening their doors to meet their manufacturing neighbors and build a community to help each other out. Those relationships eventually led to the formation of the Greater Houston Manufacturers Association. Each month we meet at a member’s facility. Someone orders in sandwiches, we pitch in our $10, visit in the conference room or shop if there are more than 15 or 20 people, get to know each other and go on a brief tour. We at the Greater Houston Manufacturers Association have experimented with many programs and ideas with the goal of bringing the manufacturing community together, being an advocate for the local manufacturing concerns to local government, working with the community colleges and universities to provide workforce development needs and sharing best practices with each other.


By Louis Osmont and Kevin Pianko

In the early 1990s, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was a hotly debated topic. Proponents saw the benefits of less-constrained international trade; those opposed feared that U.S.- based manufacturing jobs would be lost. Both were right: NAFTA passed, jobs left, but U.S.-based manufacturers soon reaped bottom-line benefits from lower labor costs — not just in Mexico, but across the globe. China’s massive growth, fueled by globalization, industrialization, urbanization and automation, also played a role. As workers moved from farms to cities, they needed jobs. American manufacturers were only too happy to step up. Outsourcing jobs meant they could pay a foreign labor force a fraction of what unions demanded back home.

Since 2001, American manufacturing jobs dropped by 5.1 million, according to US News and World Report. Now the landscape is changing – reshoring is beginning to bring manufacturing back home. According to non-profit organization Reshoring Initiative, reshoring has helped restore close to 15 percent of the more than 500,000 post-recession jobs created in the U.S. manufacturing sector. Further, a survey of U.S. manufacturers by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that 54 percent are considering relocating production to the United States from China, a substantial increase from 37 percent in 2012. That same study revealed that 16 percent were already actively reshoring – more than double the 7 percent doing so in 2012.


By Sri Ramadas, Netwin Solutions

June 2 was the deadline for reporting requirements under the SEC’s Conflict Minerals Rule, and many companies are still uncertain on what steps to take to ensure they are compliant.  The new ruling stems from a provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that requires issuers (every company that issues or proposes to issue any security) to disclose to investors whether any tantalum, tin, tungsten or gold (3TG) used in their products may have originated from the conflict-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where armed groups engaging in mining operations are believed to subject workers to human rights abuses and to be financing regional conflicts. The goal of the rule is to provide transparency into corporate practices and reduce funding to groups involved in these violations in these countries.

The 3TG minerals in question are found in thousands of products, ranging from cell phones and laptop computers to watches, apparel, golf clubs and hearing aids. Companies that fail to take steps now to assess their use and sourcing of these conflict minerals may create legal or commercial risks, not to mention social and ethical issues, in the near future. Roughly 275,000 private companies that are part of the issuers’ supply chains are expected to be affected. Don’t know where to start?

Here are five things companies should know about complying with the Conflict Minerals Rule:

Tata Steel

There's nothing like visiting a blast furnace, in India, in May. It goes without saying that the heat is incredible. But the process of fiery, molten liquid turning into smooth, shiny metal is also quite spectacular, even beautiful. Steel mills have been a part of my landscape for most of my life — for 20 years, I have driven past them when I go from my adulthood home in Chicago to my childhood home in Michigan. Gary, Indiana, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is nicknamed "Steel City." But I'd never gone inside a steel mill, and I had the unique opportunity to do so halfway around the world, in Jamshedpur, India — also called "Steel City" but without Gary's well-known misfortunes.

Bustling Jamshedpur, in the eastern part of the country, is India's first planned industrial city. It was founded more than a hundred years ago by the founder of Tata Group — an Indian conglomerate that currently has divisions ranging from beverage to retail to hotels. The founder, Jamshedji Tata, was the Andrew Carnegie of India, and like Carnegie, he was public-spirited. The area around Jamshedpur is rich in iron ore, used to make steel, and coal, to fuel the mills. It is also near a river confluence for transportation.


By Philip ParanicasDirector of New Product Development, ThomasNet

By now, you are likely well aware that Millennials (aka Generation Y, age 18-32 today) hold the keys to your company’s future. Many of them are already customers, vendors, and up-and-coming sales rock stars. (Even though many avoid writing complete sentences or care to use the shift key.) By 2025, they’ll also make up 75 percent of your workforce, and businesses will be vying for their creativity and fresh thinking. Why wait to move forward and bring them into your fold? How can you win over the “best and brightest” of these rising stars now? What are the best platforms and strategies for reaching this social and mobile generation?

This isn’t just interesting food for thought—it’s serious business for the manufacturing world, which is responsible for $1.9 trillion of the US Gross Domestic Product. A recent® Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) survey of more than 1,200 American manufacturers shows a troubling trend: they’re not working hard or fast enough to attract Generation Y. These companies are dominated by 45- to 65-year-olds, many of whom are ready to hang it up. Yet, they have very few Gen Y staff to succeed them, and they don’t see this changing soon. The results show a serious disconnect—manufacturers acknowledge there is a problem, but are not taking sufficient action to tackle it. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are going begging in manufacturing, and many could be filled by this important group.

  By Tom Lautenschlager, Thomas Enterprise Solutions

What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right? Wrong.

A recent independent study commissioned by Thomas Enterprise Solutions shows that a lack of detailed and accurate product data flowing between manufacturers and distributors is costing thousands of dollars in unnecessary labor and lost sales.  Results from the series of one-to-one interviews with participants on both sides of the fence also conclude that frustration caused by “the data disconnect” is taking a serious toll on manufacturer distributor relationships. As far as I’m concerned, this is our industry’s big bad secret -- everyone knows about it but no one wants to admit it, much less deal with it.  Well, I for one, am glad it’s out! 

 By Susan Orr

You’d think that an industry that’s using innovation and technology to power growth would have a line of Generation Y job candidates, resumes tightly clutched in their hands, beating down the doors. But therein lies manufacturing’s troubling contradiction and main finding of®’s recent Industry Marketing Barometer® (IMB) survey

Nearly 7 out of 10 or 67% of the 1,200 respondents expect to introduce new or innovative products and services this year and nearly two-thirds or 63% expect to grow.  And yet, if you listen closely you can hear a clock ticking away behind the din of progress.  A biological clock that is counting down the years, months and weeks to a workforce crisis. Three quarters of the survey respondents reported that only 25% of their workforces are 30 years of age or less.  So why, in an industry that we all know offers rich, rewarding careers — one that challenges the intellect and skills of even the brightest innovators and technologists — are we unable to attract fresh talent? 

By Mike Bowlby

The future of metal fabrication in the United States gleams with hope and promising trends for fabricators and their customers. Not that the present state of the fabrication industry is in dire need of an everlasting light, but the future holds an even greater outlook and favorability for the industry. Before looking at what will change and what trends will occur in the metal fabrication industry, it’s important to understand what some of the current trends in the industry are. For instance, how much material, raw versus recycled, is used in the production of certain metals or why do we use certain types of metals in our lives? These are important questions because they could in fact change in the (not so distant) future.

By Susan Orr, Senior Director, Partner Program Management, ThomasNet

It’s bad enough when you lose sales to your competition but worse when you lose sales because of your own website.  The truth is that this is exactly what happens when a manufacturer’s website doesn’t align with its sales process. At ThomasNet, we see this all the time. It’s the result of not understanding the ever-evolving role your website plays in your potential customer’s sourcing and buying experience. More specifically, it’s about whether or not your website content supports their needs as they make their buying decisions. When most companies first launched their websites, they were typically brochureware. 

Flat, clickable versions of company literature.  Their purpose mirrored that of brochures, too.  A little branding, some basic information, some benefit statements. That was then. This is now. 

On-boarding the next generation has become an industry imperative

By Susan Orr, Senior Director, Partner Program Management, ThomasNet

Who wants to be in manufacturing?  Let’s see a show of hands.  Anyone? Okay, so it’s a bit of a hyperbole, but not much.  The fact of the matter is we have a labor crisis on our hands. In our annual® Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) survey, we learned that nearly half of the 1600 manufacturers who responded were planning to hire new, skilled workers. Despite a current 7.6% unemployment rate, jobs remain unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.  

The most popular positions in demand are for Line Workers (52%); Skilled Trade Workers (48%); and Engineers (40%). The most troubling thing isn’t the problem itself.  The bigger concern is that the industry as a whole needs to do more — much more — to address it.  We are our own worst enemy in that we’ve yet to fully embrace the truth:  manufacturing is suffering from a bad rap.  The next generation thinks it’s low-tech, low paying and low on intellectually stimulating and challenging careers. Naturally as a marketer, I see this as a marketing issue and successfully addressing it means changing the way we look at the next generation. 

The Intelligent Industrial Marketer -- Executive Branch Determined to Level the International Playing Field; Boost US Exports in 2013

By Susan Orr, Senior Director, Strategic Partner Initiatives, ThomasNet

“The key to creating new jobs is opening markets for American goods…for every $1 billion we increase exports, thousands of jobs are supported here at home.” - President Obama

During his State-of-the-Union address, the President focused on U.S. manufacturing as a powerful source of new jobs and an important factor in the economic recovery. He then proceeded to outline a number of initiatives to help level the international playing field and expand access to American-made goods. The President isn’t the only one who sees 2013 as the year for American industrial manufacturers to make their move and seek new markets beyond our borders. In fact,’s 2012 Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) survey revealed that two thirds (67 percent) of the more than 1,600 manufacturers who responded were already selling overseas; and more than one third of them planned to increase their international sales.

According to the annual market forecast released by the Valve Manufacturers Association (VMA), shipments for the U.S. industrial valve industry will grow by 3 percent in 2013, increasing to nearly $4.3 billion. Not only does this mark the fourth consecutive year of growth for the valve market following the recession, it also exceeds the industry's previous 10-year peak in 2008.

"As VMA starts its 75th year, I'm optimistic about the outlook for our industry," VMA President William Sandler said. "We have rebounded from the downturn, which is a good sign for us and the overall economy. If the end users of our products are ordering from us, then they too are producing. I'm also proud of VMA's important role in strengthening an industry that is the backbone for so many others and that stands out for its level of excellence."

Indeed, not only is this good news for the health of the manufacturing industry, it also bodes well for the construction, power, oil and gas, and pulp and paper markets.

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