Die Cad Group has been around since 1995, but the company changed hands in 2013 and is now a certified woman-owned company, a factor that will likely help it attract new markets.
Die Cad Group earned its official certification earlier this month from the Women’s Business Enterprise Council – Great Lakes Certification Committee, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
The certification opens the door to new business relationships with companies that are incentivized to work with minority-owned businesses, particularly OEMs.
Bobbie Blanton, Die Cad Group owner, said part of the company’s new strategic plan for growth includes growing the business’s product development arm, which means focusing on attracting OEMs and tier 2 suppliers.
Die Cad Group currently works primarily with the tool and die industry and tier 1 and tier 2 manufacturers, offering services that include 2-D and 3-D design, simulation, processing and surfacing.
“When we started our strategic planning, we said we have this (being woman-owned); now let’s use it,” Blanton said. “We’ve already had a few companies that have been waiting for it.”
To qualify for the woman-owned designation, a company has to be at least 51 percent woman-owned; Blanton owns 75 percent of Die Cad Group.
The company had to undergo a rigorous review by the certifying organization, which included looking at its history, financials and an overall review of the business, as well as multiple onsite inspections to ensure that Blanton is a hands-on owner, not just a figurehead.
Becoming a woman-owned certified business is only one part of Blanton’s growth plan for Die Cad Group.
The company has invested in Unigraphics software, which Blanton said also will help it reach out to new clients.
“We were primarily Catia (software) up until two months ago,” she explained. “We decided to make an investment and offer a separate software to reach out to some different OEMs.”
It is also looking into adding “additive manufacturing” — also known as 3-D printing — to its list of services.
The company more than likely will add staff and open a satellite office north of Grand Rapids, as well.
“Tool and die design is primarily coming back onshore,” Blanton said. “For a while we saw it go offshore and we lost several jobs in West Michigan, obviously. That is changing, and it’s driving a constant refresh of products back here.
“To support the industry and the West Michigan area, we thought making a satellite office would be good.”
Blanton said there is a great pool of workers to draw from just north of Grand Rapids and she’d like to start off by staffing the satellite office with five people and then grow it in the future.
“We are looking for about 26 percent growth in staff, hopefully in the next six to 12 months, and then 53 percent in the next year,” she said.
Die Cad Group currently employs 20 workers.
Blanton said the biggest challenge Die Cad Group is facing is one that is universal in the manufacturing industry: recruiting and retaining workers.
“I keep looking at so many kids going to college and coming out and not being able to find a job — and yet, I’m sitting here and can’t find someone to come to work,” she said. “We are looking to invest in some apprenticeship programs and provide some educational alternatives to the traditional college path. Right now I am working with different companies in the area and talking with different colleges about creating an apprenticeship program.
“The industry overall in our region really needs to work together to develop the next generation of workers. My workforce’s average age is 45 years old.”
Curbing old stereotypes of manufacturing as a dirty, low-skilled, unstable career is one of the biggest hurdles.
She said students need to be reached as early as high school with opportunities for them to actually see what manufacturing work is, and then continue with training programs focused on 18- to 25-year-olds.
Blanton is looking at how her retiring workers can participate in training the next generation as part of an apprenticeship program.
“There are a lot of our employees who would be willing to do some instruction, whether now or as they retire,” she said. “You could actually develop a full circle, so when they enter in, they work so long and then as they want to retire, they could actually start to become instructors.”
Blanton has been in the industry for 17 years. She started at Die Cad Group just after it was founded, serving as the office and accounting manager.
She said a combination of need and an innate inability to sit still helped her to grow with the company.
“I started getting more involved in the day-to-day operations and the workflow, and some of the management, as well,” she said.
She went back to school twice during her progression with the company, once to study design engineering and the second time to obtain a master’s degree in business.
“In 2005, I actually had the opportunity to invest in the company as a partner. … (Later) I started to buy out some other partners. … I really just grew with the company and took it over as needed.”
From 2010-2013, she achieved 50 percent ownership of the company.
Even though Blanton has made it to the top, she acknowledged the male-dominated industry isn’t always an easy place for women.
“It’s not a female industry by any means. There are very few of us. It’s a challenge — the glass ceiling — and it’s not always easy,” she said.
But more and more, she has been able to connect with women in the industry, and she said it’s nice to get together and discuss the industry from their perspective.
She didn’t have any particular advice for recruiting more women into the profession aside from what she previously mentioned for recruiting any worker: dismantle the factory-worker stereotype.
“We have a very nice office, it’s extremely clean, and anybody can do it,” she said.