Coordinated by The Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, the eight businesspersons leading the fledgling group are working to set up a coalition to address issues facing manufacturers today.
“The Tri-Cities manufacturers are experiencing the same problems as everyone. We’re in a very competitive time,” said Leon Span, the president of metal fabricator M&S Companies who’s serving as chairman of a steering committee that’s forming the Tri-Cities Manufacturer’s Council.
In the early stages of planning, and just recently adopting a mission statement and goals, organizers envision a manufacturer’s council that at a minimum provides networking opportunities and allows participants to draw on each other’s expertise. Initiatives that identify examples of best practices within an industry and then assimilate that to participants are among the activities that organizers want to pursue.
Span describes the council as being in its infancy. He and others are working to structure the coalition so that it is sustainable and serves as an advisory group that helps The Chamber better support and meet the needs of local manufacturers.
“We’re trying to figure out what we can do to utilize the local talents to benefit the manufacturers,” Span said. “It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day battles and you forget about the other guy next door that is going through the same thing, and they may be able to help you.”
The push to form a manufacturer’s council for the Grand Haven-Spring Lake area began in January and stems from comments chamber staff received while making retention visits to area firms during the past year, said Tricia Ryan, vice president for economic development at The Chamber.
Many executives indicated they’d like to see a local manufacturing support network, Ryan said.
“We’re trying to tap into those manufacturers that are here and they’re not plugged into anything,” she said. “We’re hearing from people that want to be connected to other people.”
Lacking a local group, some manufacturers have joined councils in Muskegon, Grand Rapids or Holland, Ryan said.
The manufacturing sector in the Tri-Cities consists of a diverse collection of companies ranging from numerous small manufacturers and light assemblers to major corporations such as local Magna Donnelly and Herman Miller Inc. plants and homegrown manufacturers like JSJ Corp., Shape Corp. and Eagle Ottawa Leather Co.
Ryan hopes to see the new council operating and organizing its first event by this summer. Past manufacturing councils organized locally were unable to sustain themselves and ultimately fizzled, she said.
Organizers of the new group are determined not to let that happen again.
“We want to make sure we launch it correctly. We don’t want it to be a flash in the pan,” Span said.
In forming the new council, The Chamber and its steering committee plan to look at similar organizations in Muskegon, Holland and Grand Rapids.
A mission statement that the steering committee for the Tri-Cities Manufacturing Council adopted last week identifies the group’s role as working “to promote and strengthen the manufacturing community.” The group’s goals are to develop a coalition of local manufacturers, utilize local expertise, share best business practices and provide continuing education.
The latter area “would fall very nicely” into the activities of a manufacturing council, said Nancy Manglos, workforce development coordinator for The Chamber. The council would provide a vehicle that enables The Chamber to better showcase business practices such as lean manufacturing techniques, and arrange worker training sessions on behalf of several employers whose employees need to learn the same skills, Manglos said.
Better coordinating that training has taken on a heightened importance given the state’s budget crisis that’s resulted in deep cuts to the funding available for workforce development grants, Manglos said.
“We’re going to have to come up with ways to do training for those companies at a reduced cost,” she said.
In addition to Span, serving on the council’s steering committee are: Bud Hoffman, president of Lakeshore Automatic Products Inc.; Matt Jacobs, president of Advanced Molding Solutions; Steve Moreland, president of Automatic Spring Products Corp.; Tim Parker, vice president of northern operations for Harbor Industries Inc.; Craig Seaver, president of Seaver Industrial Finishing Co.; Kent Sucheki, president of Grand Haven Gasket Co.; and Bernie Wade, president of Advanced Signs Inc.