Archive for the ‘manufacturing’ Category

By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

We are beginning to do the last-minute, mad-dash preparations for this year’s NSSEA School Equipment Show in Phoenix.  The planning for this event actually began for us the month after last year’s show.  We met with our whole sales team and talked through the 2009 show in terms of what we thought went well, what products showed well, and what we thought we should do differently the following year.

At that time we decided to commit to the same amount of floor space as we have for the past several years, and made some early decisions as to what we might want to show again in 2010 and what kinds of new products we might want to highlight.  Then we set that whole planning process aside for a few months.

In midsummer, we pulled out those early plans, dusted them off and started laying out our prospective booth and placing furniture in it.  In early September, I thought we were solid with the furniture we would show.  Then, when our sales team met later in September, we made some changes to show some new and different products.  The plan actually changed quite a bit!

The result is that this year, in addition to showing some old standby products that will have a “freshened” look, we will be showing several products we have never shown before.  We will even show a product category that we have been building for a few schools that people would not normally associate with Fleetwood Group furniture.

And that is part of the fun of this show!  Since over 30 percent of what we build each year falls into the category of “specials”, we are always creating ways to meet unique needs of our customers, so we always have something new to show.  All the manufacturers will be doing the same kinds of things, trying to show what they are capable of, and what kinds of creative solutions they have brought to market or are about to.  And, of course, relationships are renewed with old industry friends, and new ones are forged… a dynamic that is more important in this business than in any other I have been a part of.

Rumor has it that a number of manufacturers are sitting out the show this year, and many dealers are attending with fewer of their team members.  We are hopeful that people will rally around this show and make it a worthwhile event for all.  The event needs a certain critical mass to be viable, and even in tough times an event like this one is a kind of crossroads where commerce is centered, and being there is important in and of itself.  Like so many other things in life, this show is probably a “use it or lose it” event.  Let’s support it!

See you in Phoenix!

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

I sat in a local restaurant early this morning next to a table of retired gentlemen who were “solving the world’s problems.”  A lot of their conversation centered on the planned visit this week of President Barrack Obama to our fair city.  He will be here to highlight a new battery plant via its groundbreaking ceremony, actually one of two new battery plants gearing up here in Holland, MI to produce batteries to power electric cars for Ford and GM.  (Yes, I did talk about another west Michigan presidential visit just last month in my blog!  He must have figured out that summer is a great time to be in west Michigan!)

Promoting alternative energy is probably the president’s primary reason to be here this week, but certainly the addition of jobs to our local economy will be highlighted as well.  What difference does manufacturing make in the USA nowadays, anyway?  Does it matter if we outsource making things to other countries?

It has become fashionable over the last 15 or so years to claim that we are moving “beyond” a manufacturing economy to a service and information economy.  After all, the logic goes, manufacturing is a dirty business and many of the jobs in manufacturing are “unskilled”, so maybe it’s best to let those jobs go to other countries.  As Americans we fell in love with our computers, the internet, the tech bubble of the 90s, and our smart phones, so it seemed like maybe a good idea to ship our manufacturing jobs overseas… to let someone else do the dirty stuff while we do the “intelligent” stuff.

Even here in Ottawa County, where I live and work, there was some acceptance of that logic despite the fact that, at 30 percent, we possessed the nation’s highest proportion of manufacturing related jobs.  Nationally only 10.1 percent of non-farm jobs are manufacturing related, down from 25 percent in 1970.  Within the triangle formed by Holland, Muskegon, and Grand Rapids, we were enjoying the highest economic growth rate in the nation back in the 1990s.  With our strong work ethic, a high density of entrepreneurs, and a generally union-free environment (and employers who understood how to take good care of their employees to keep it that way), we were in our own bubble enjoying the good life.

As a country we now seem to be taking a long second look at the value of manufacturing these days.  Because we have allowed so many of our manufacturing jobs to move to other countries, most of what Mr. Obama would like us to invest in to stimulate the economy, it turns out, will add employment to OTHER countries first.  Want to invest in wind energy?  Look to Europe.  Want to invest in high speed rail?  Look to Europe or Asia.  We do manufacture automobiles, still, though the “New American Manufacturers” (foreign car companies that now build their cars in the USA) have been kicking our tails for years.  Toyota now has 15 manufacturing plants here in America.  They have figured out how to do manufacturing in the USA.  They pay a lot less, have no unions to deal with, and have pretty happy employees.

But I digress.  The point is that we need to make stuff.  We need to be proud to make stuff here in the USA.  The “intelligent” jobs are a small percentage of total employment in the product development/manufacturing cycle, and even those jobs are following the manufacturing jobs elsewhere.  If we allow ourselves to further wade into being a “service and information economy” we will generally have less innovation, fewer good paying jobs, and we will be more at the mercy of other countries for the products we need.  And, as we are beginning to see with China, they will own us.  If there ever was a national security issue, this is one.

I, for one, am proud to be employed by a manufacturer of educational furniture, all built here in Holland, Michigan.  We don’t import products to resell.  We employ 160 people, and we buy steel, wood, paint and fasteners that we cut, bend, weld, paint, and assemble into very high quality furniture that students, teachers and administrators use nationwide.  We all need to become passionate about re-growing our national manufacturing base going forward.  Our future, and that of our children and grandchildren, depends on it!

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