The Effingham Area Manufacturer's Network had its inaugural meeting on May 22, 2014 at Versatech. The Network started after one of Versatech's clients mentioned to me that it would be nice if area manufacturers could get together to talk and learn from each other. Having had some experience with these types of networks in a previous life, I volunteered to make it happen. Two years later, I can proudly say that area manufacturers have responded very well to the concept!
The picture above was taken at the latest Network meeting, which took place on March 22, 2016 at Irwin Seating in Altamont, IL. Irwin Seating makes K-12, stadium and event venue telescopic seating for a variety of customers, including universities and major league football teams. As with most other network meetings, the host company presenter gave a short presentation on his company's history and capabilities, he did a plant tour for the attendees (shown above). Then, the group had lunch and discussed any upcoming events pertinent to manufacturers and participant company's successes. Attendees asked questions about capacity, challenges, and products, and Irwin's employees answered openly and honestly.
The Manufacturing Network meetings take place every other month throughout the year, excluding the summer months. Meetings are held from 11 am to 1 pm, and the host provides lunch for the group. Most meetings are plant tours, but, occasionally, partners with manufacturers, such as community colleges, host the meeting to showcase their services to the group. No one is allowed to attend meetings that are not manufacturers, and there are no sales pitches made to the group. This is an important reason for the success of the group, as no attendee needs to be worried about being sold to.
Companies who have attended network meetings have discovered new methods of performance tracking, new marketing ideas and new ways to organize their shop floor. One company attended a network meeting, and immediately purchased a new sign promoting their Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which the host company had had all their employees sign. The attendee remarked that they felt that would be a much better way for their employees, who also had an ESOP, to identify with the program, so they were going to have all their employees autograph the new sign as well.
There are three benefits that all Effingham Area Manufacturers Network participants experience. It is my belief that these benefits keep the group together and have helped it to grow over the past two years.
Education: All participants receive education through the host company presentations and plant tours. Many attendees remark that they learn a lot about other area companies by attending.
Networking: Valuable professional relationships have evolved from the meetings. One meeting was on the subject of funding sources for area manufacturers, and one company has since actually used one presenter's funding to offset the cost of training employees in their facility.
Benchmarking: Whether attendees openly admit it or not, they compare companies they tour to their own company. This is the essence of benchmarking. If the attendee goes back to his own company and makes improvements based on what he learned at a meeting, the company can save thousands of dollars. This more than justifies the two hours away from the facility!
If you are struggling with meeting manufacturers in your area, I encourage you to form your own Manufacturers Network! I would be happy to provide help and advice to those of you interested in doing so! Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested in discussing Manufacturing Networks further!