Colorado’s myriad trade groups compete to promote. A MFG partnership promises collaboration.

By Bart Taylor | Jan 28, 2014

Colorado’s economic development landscape is an alphabet-soup mix of acronyms and trade names. Entities that touch the maker and manufacturing sector alone include OEDIT, CAMA, CAMT, CACI, WCMA, CWIDB, CBSA, CCIA, WTC, CBDA and others I’m sure I’ve left out, not to mention city and community chambers and EDC’s.

Collectively, it’s an amazing collection of smart people, very good at what they do. It’s also becoming a startlingly large bureaucracy. Economic development is big business. It’s a competitive game that takes money to make money.

The upside of today’s system is that member companies or affiliates get quality support in the regional and national chase for influence, dollars, and incentives. The downside is that business is getting squeezed. Companies are being asked to do and spend more, with multiple groups, and expect less in return. And the high stakes at play between developers can work to lessen collaboration with sectors. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose.

It can be refreshing when entities find ways to partner to advance everyone’s interest. For manufacturers, one idea percolating in southern Colorado has the long-term goal of doing just that.

SCBP - the Southern Colorado Business Partnership - is partnering with CAMT - the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, to reprise an idea that’s been visited and revisited with varying degrees of, well, futility.

The idea is simple enough: encourage manufacturers, their partners and providers, to participate in building a database of key information that’s searchable, easy to use, and highly targeted to others within the maker and manufacturer ecosystem. The end game is to build a more highly connected community. A single community.

The challenge in the past has been to convince companies that a tool like this might lead to business, and as a result, convince them to invest the time to enter data and use the platform.

CAMT CEO Tom Bugnitz believes this time may be different. “Companies are starting to realize there is a lot they don’t know about their potential partners”, he says, “who they are, what they do, how they can help their business. Competition is much stronger now, and with the information tools available, companies are looking for anything that helps them compete. Manufacturers have evolved so that they are now ready and willing to use data to improve their competitiveness, and they see this tool as one piece of the information puzzle for doing that.”

In the companies we’ve profiled, there does seem to be a high interest to be better connected. Macro-trends are favoring domestic production, and companies here increasingly look to local and regional sources to meet growing demand for talent and expertise, money and materials.

CAMT’s Bugnitz sees supply-chain as the big win. “The key idea is Colorado manufacturers finding Colorado suppliers. Companies know each other now through existing personal knowledge and informal networking. This activity will increase everyone’s awareness of what’s being made in Colorado, allow companies to quickly identify potential new suppliers and new customers, and keep more business in Colorado.

“Over time this effort will create a more and more detailed view of the Colorado manufacturing network”, he adds, “allowing manufacturers to streamline their supply chains for faster product delivery, product development, and cheaper costs.”

If CAMT, SCBP and the coalition being formed to develop the tool can persuade southern Colorado manufacturers to participate, an even bigger ‘win’ for the community would be a statewide implementation of the as-of-yet unnamed database tool. CAMT, one of 61 MEPs (manufacturing extension partnerships) across the country, already plays in a bigger sandbox. Bugnitz has eyes for a tool that would serve the statewide community of manufacturers.

With so many entities vying for the support of makers and manufacturers, each offering a suite of services and assistance, CAMT and SCBP’s challenge of capturing the attention and interest of otherwise busy companies, seems daunting. There’s also the challenge of demonstrating ease-of-use: technology solutions often bring with them a perception that loads of time is needed to learn a new platform.

But the payoff for participating companies may be worth the effort. Connecting the statewide community with a single, open, and comprehensive resource would be a major accomplishment.

One the entire alphabet might readily support.