8 ingredients for Utah manufacturing success

By Bart Taylor | Oct 26, 2015

Since launching CompanyWeek in 2013 and CompanyWeek Utah a year later, we’ve profiled more than 400 manufacturing companies in the Rocky Mountain west. What’s emerged is a clearer picture of challenges and opportunities that frame the development of a modern manufacturing economy -- and a blueprint for how communities can foster a robust and growing sector.

What makes a great manufacturing community ‘of the future’? Here are eight ingredients:

  1. A cross-industry mix of maker businesses and supply chain. Communities that develop multi-industry manufacturing economies will lead a U.S.-made resurgence. High-tech fabricators, consumer lifestyle and natural products companies will revitalize manufacturing’s image as legacy manufacturers lead the way with expertise and other resources, such as important supply-chain components. A growing, cross-industry supply chain will be transformative. Technology leveraged across all sectors will be a catalyst.
  2. Focus on connecting the manufacturing community, including regional partnerships. Regional and inter-state cooperation is in the offing. Why? Because company-to-company collaboration surpasses local, single-industry investments in business incubators and accelerators in return on time and money invested. It’s also common sense: Want to onshore a service contract? Today it’s hard to find good options -- though they likely exist. Get maker businesses connected and best-practices, expertise, contacts and contracts flow more efficiently.
  3. Focus on ‘company creation’, not ‘job creation’. Manufacturing may never be the job engine it once was; for towns like Reno, wins like Tesla come far and few between. But today industry clusters serve the same purpose. In Ogden, Mayor Mike Caldwell has established the city as a destination for lifestyle companies including a growing list of manufacturers. Create a compelling environment for manufacturing start-ups and build a job base from the ground up. Like-minded companies – and jobs – will follow.
  4. Nurture the sea change underway in education. Manufacturing’s again a compelling career option. Industry is helping educators understand that a new generation of manufacturing employees is needed -- and now. Some schools, such as Utah State University, get it. Lindsey Shirley and her colleagues there have developed the nation’s first Outdoor Products Design degree, an initiative that aligns with the state’s growing lifestyle manufacturing push in Ogden and under Brad Peterson at GOED. It’s time to embrace innovation in .edu, and push back against the status quo.
  5. Develop manufacturing-specific business financing strategies. CompanyWeek Utah will host the first-ever Utah Manufacturing Growth and Investor Conference next spring. Investor events dot the technology landscape and many others. Time for debt and equity investors to learn more about manufacturing, too -- and vice versa. Family-owned manufacturers, in particular, have unique needs. Entrepreneurs always need money. Let’s prioritize manufacturing businesses.
  6. Develop informed public policy support for manufacturing. What constitutes a pro-manufacturing public-policy platform? Renew the Ex-Im bank charter (here’s why); agree on comprehensive immigration reform; fund innovation agendas, such as new internship and job shadowing programs; invest in ‘placemaking’ initiatives featuring mixed-use developments that include light manufacturing; invest in infrastructure, including transportation strategies that enhance the Utah lifestyle experience and business recruitment. The pro-manufacturing list is long, and will take coordinated action.
  7. Women are powering the new manufacturing economy -- celebrate their success. Manufacturing is perceived as the domain of men, but a new maker economy can be a posterchild for a diverse workforce. From family-owned companies increasingly run by women to industries such as food and apparel -- where women lead the manufacturing resurgence -- Utah boasts nation-leading gender diversity. Celebrate it.
  8. Celebrate the connection to our manufacturing legacy -- as the foundation for the future. Utah is littered with iconic industrial brands that have endured, succeeded and are now pointing the way to a U.S. manufacturing revival. We’ve profiled dozens, including Peterson Inc., May Foundry & Machine, NRP-Jones and others.

Finally, rally around business leaders willing to challenge business-as-usual development strategies and use whatever leverage necessary to change the way manufacturing is supported in the city, state and national dialogue.

Utah’s poised for great things.

Bart Taylor is founder and publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at btaylor@companyweek.com.