The current initiatives of “insourcing” jobs offer new opportunities for U.S. manufacturing. However, they once again raise the question of the global long-term competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers. Efforts to implement lean production have led to mixed results. Nevertheless, having excellent operations is a key pillar for being and remaining competitive. High labor-cost countries and manufacturing leaders like the U.S., Germany and Japan will have to follow a very specific path. U.S. manufacturing has to prepare now for these opportunities and work toward more long-term competitiveness.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) resources are not expected to be robust. This will translate to further reductions in its operating programs such as the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), and eventually (if not already) will translate into personnel, skills-mix and salary impacts. This will hinder the ability of both OCSPP programs – Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) and Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) – to review submissions in a timely fashion and meet other program objectives.

Think for a moment about your corporate intranet. What comes to mind? A robust portal for collaboration, communication and knowledge management? A tablet- and mobile-optimized presence that addresses contextual employee needs? Or a static site with dated information and content, a poor search tool and an interface that isn’t user-friendly?

If you picked the latter description, you are far from alone. Corporate intranets in manufacturing are more often than not a languishing dumping ground instead of a strategic asset, a checkbox initiative that’s used as a one-way channel to push policy, procedures and product information.

It’s a tough economic market. So, why are countless individuals and businesses today missing opportunities that could propel them ahead? Failure to recognize these openings is partly to blame, but even more likely is the hesitation that comes from being stuck in a comfort zone.

The term “comfort zone,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity,” suggests a desirable life, and work existence. Additionally, since this Nirvana-like state typically requires significant knowledge, experience and/or training to achieve, it is often associated with success. So it is understandable most people perceive being in the comfort zone as a safe, non-threatening, non-demanding state, whereas stepping out of the comfort zone is risky.

Having taken many different types of companies and individuals over the last 35 years into foreign markets to meet individual prospects, to attend trade shows or to participate in trade missions, an interesting observation can be made of these companies and individuals. This unique factor focuses on the amount and type of control that organizations want to take when doing business in a foreign market.

On a recent trade mission to China in which I was involved, a number of companies from a similar industry participated. What was interesting was that most of the individuals had no idea about this issue of control until they began to meet some of the potential distributors/partners in the foreign country. In fact, this is seldom an issue prior to meeting overseas partners or distributors. The realization only sets in when real overseas opportunities become apparent. This then leads into a discussion and consideration of various issues and decisions that will need to be made. 

Culture is the heart of a corporation. It is the life-source for the company’s values, mission, business standards, ethics and relationships with customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders. Because it is so embedded, a company’s culture has a sense of permanence, which is why management and employees are generally reluctant to question it. Sometimes when issues arise, the reaction is usually unfavorable, with such rejoinders as, “This is the way we’ve always done things” or “Don’t even try to discuss that with senior management.” Much like religious beliefs, corporate culture is deeply ingrained in the company’s psyche, making it even more difficult to challenge. That might explain why management may not immediately recognize situations in which cultural issues are negatively impacting the business.

Much may be headed our way this year from the Hill in connection with reform of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and chemical initiatives advanced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). The 2012 presidential election cycle is likely to influence any activity by either party or the administration over the next year.

Quality systems are constantly evolving to balance the demands of complex regulatory and production environments with recession-inspired, cost-cutting measures. Some of these changes result from stricter guidelines, while others come from technology innovations. Regardless, it is important to remember that “quality” is more than just a person with a clipboard taking measurements. Rather it encompasses the complete process of design, engineering, manufacturing and post-production support, all of which impact the entire organization. By providing traceability and visibility, quality systems assist companies in reducing rework and redesign issues, while positively impacting a company’s fiscal performance.

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