December, 2014

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New and Renewing Companies

Thank you to the following
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in the past 30 days!

Amesbury Group
Artistic Finishes
Bose Corporation
Buhler Inc
Central Container
Ceramic Industrial Coatings
Class C Components
Code Welding & Mfg
Ecolab Inc
Fey Industries
Fishbowl Solutions
FMS Corporation
Foldcraft Company
Force America
Froehling Anderson
Global Finishing Solutions
Goebel Fixture Solutions
Hire Authority
Integris Group
Intek Plastics
M&A Executive Search
Minnetronix Inc
Nordic Ware
Precision Associates
Prima Power Laserdyne
ProtoLabs Co
Robinson Rubber
Saint Paul Stamp Works
SPX Corporation
Starkey Hearing
The Toro Company
Thermo King
Tjernlund Products
Top Tool Company

2015 Wage and Benefits Survey

The 2015 Manufacturers Alliance Compensation and Benefits Survey participation window is open.
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Deadline: February 2
Report Distribution: April 1

2015 Manufacturer of the Year Awards

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Submit by: January 30
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Spring 2015 Scholarship

Apply By: March 20
Winner Announced: March 27
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Now Seeking Applications for MnTAP's E3 in FRP Project

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(612) 624-1826. 

Training Grants - Tips and Tricks

Did you know that 70% of training grants go to manufacturers? Learn more about training grant programs through the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development's Minnesota Job Skills Partnership. More insights also available by contacting us at (763) 533-8239.

PGC pairs up with Edina High School and Project Lead the Way

PGC (Precision Gasket Company) recently paired up with Edina High School and Project Lead the Way. Click here to learn more about their success.

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Article Index

MGK - A Culture of Safety
Article by: John Hehre

If you could spend one dollar and get six dollars in return, would you do it? The people at MGK not only believe every dollar spent in support of the environment and the safety of its people yields such a return, they’ve done the analysis.

Gear Up for Better Results: Leadership
Article by: Warwick Alcock

The most important driver of performance in any company is Leadership — specifically the executive leadership team: the small group that, like a ship’s rudder, guides the rest of the company through choppy competitive waters towards long-term strategic success.

The Search for Qualified Employees
Article by: Bob Koehler

This is not a new phenomenon, rather the search for qualified workers has been a national issue in the manufacturing sector for a number of years now. As a country we tilted the scale a bit too far in encouraging high school grads to go immediately into college. 

More in Store for Members in 2015
Article by: Kirby Sneen

A majority of our 400-plus manufacturing member companies (up 15% this year) have had a successful and productive 2014. A few economic indicators suggest 2015 will bring continued growth for Minnesota manufacturers.

MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

November survey results mark the 24th straight month Minnesota’s Business Conditions Index has remained above growth neutral. The November index declined to a still solid 58.0 from October’s 63.7.

MGK - A Culture of Safety

If you could spend one dollar and get six dollars in return, would you do it? The people at MGK not only believe every dollar spent in support of the environment and the safety of its people yields such a return, they’ve done the analysis.

When you tour the plant it becomes obvious that their dedication is real. Safety at MGK comprehends not only the employees but customers, the environment, and any person, animal, place or thing that comes in contact with MGK’s products.

MGK began as McLaughlin Gormley King in 1902. They “develop and offer insect control solutions for advanced pest control that minimize environmental impact while meeting control requirements.” In simple terms, they develop and sell stuff that kills bugs. Of course it isn’t really all that simple. The company takes great care to avoid unintended consequences from the use of their products. Their mission is to make life healthier by creating responsible products that protect people and their environments from the impact of insects. Restaurants and other food handling companies need to control pests without harming the people they ultimately serve. Families want to control insects in their home and on their pets without harming people or animals. The industries and markets in which MGK participates and products sold are, for obvious reasons, highly regulated. MGK has a very well developed, disciplined and intentional approach to making sure they meet or exceed not only the letter but the spirit of those regulations. That same mindset extends to the environmental and safety practices within the plant. This mindset is evident as you tour the factory in different ways, from seemingly small things to significant infrastructure features.

When I arrived at the plant, the receptionist gently suggested that if I was going to tour the plant I would need to turn off my cell phone (spark hazard) and wear a hard hat. The first stop on the tour is the laboratory. Everything that passes into or out of the plant is sampled analyzed in the lab. Regulations require that any component in MGK’s product that exceeds 0.1% of the total contents be listed on the label. The lab is the first and last line of defense against foreign compounds. As our readers know however, inspection is not the best way to ensure compliance. The next stop on the tour is the main Communication Board. One of the prominent measures is formulation accuracy. Production gets it right the first time 99.8% of the time. Beyond formulation accuracy, the measures posted on the Communication Board make it clear how important safety and the environment are to the company. The company tracks incidents and near misses. Each event is investigated and where necessary a corrective action plan is implemented. Interestingly, the company neither rewards nor punishes for safety successes and issues. It is simply part of the culture. Safety programs are littered with stories of rewards and punishments causing the wrong behaviors; MGK would rather avoid any unintended consequences. Another prominent measure is the final disposition of all the plant’s waste streams. Chemical industries must watch waste streams very carefully and MGK is no exception. The plant sends out 97% of its waste streams for recycling or beneficial reuse with 60% sent for Fuels Blending. Around the 1990’s, MGK committed to building a new facility. This afforded them the opportunity to improve safety, drastically reduce emissions and waste generation per pound of product.

The importance of safety and the environment are evident in many ways beyond the measures presented on the communication boards throughout the plant. Safety is integral to continuous improvement efforts like Kaizen events and the frequent, scheduled and structured Gemba walks. Eighty percent of the employees have received forty hour emergency response training with annual refresher courses. There are frequent drills designed to keep readiness at a high level. Emergency responders each have a large, well organized locker for their equipment. There is a comprehensive spill containment program in place. Prevention is the best way to avoid a spill and, as an example, the plant uses special drum handling systems designed to avoid punctures. At the other end of the spectrum, the plant has a large, multi-level spill containment system that is large enough to contain and segregate the loss of any of their large vessels. The production areas are designed to avoid accidents and minimize the impact should they occur. Even the eyewash stations trigger a centralized alarm if they are used.

Needless to say, this article only touches on a few of the highlights. The culture of the company clearly embraces the importance of safety and environmental protection. The plant is amazingly clean (I doubt they’d allow it, but it looks like you could eat off the floor) and well organized.  After touring the plant, it’s pretty clear that a six dollar return is realistic. From the low employee turnover (not unusual for employees to retire with over 35 years of service) to the obviously efficient operations, the investment is well worth it. The overall effect is inspiring.

John Hehre is a senior operations executive and provides interim management and project based consulting to mid-sized private companies in need of transformative change. He can be reached at

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Gear Up for Better Results: Leadership

The most important driver of performance in any company is Leadership — specifically the executive leadership team: the small group that, like a ship’s rudder, guides the rest of the company through choppy competitive waters towards long-term strategic success.

The diagram below shows how leadership has a widespread, cascading impact throughout the organization that cumulatively amplifies the firm's results.


Leadership’s impact can be either constructive or damaging. Let’s illustrate using leadership research data from The Gallup Organization, The Ken Blanchard Companies, and the Saratoga Institute, amongst others.

Characteristics of weak leadership

Researchers pinpoint the following typical characteristics of weak leadership:

Minimal time for strategy, poor planning and control, low emotional intelligence; inability to build morale or give recognition or support for staff; poor employee relations, supervisory incompetence, unproductive meetings, and inordinate time spent on fire fighting and crisis management.

What impact does poor leadership have?

Impact #1: Processes

Weak leaders don’t give staff the tools they need to do the job (staff work with inappropriate processes and systems), and they’re burdened with excessive paperwork and reporting demands — which distracts them from serving customers.

Impact #2: People (staff, employees, teams)

Research indicates that in the poorest-led companies, less than 10% of employees understand their company’s strategy, 70% are disengaged at work, and 40% of employee work is trivial (e.g. excessive paperwork and reporting). Disengaged employees vote with their feet: poorly-led companies suffer a 20% voluntary turnover rate.

The economic impact is huge: the cost to replace an employee equals the annual salary of the vacated position, and it takes 8 months to get a new employee fully productive. 12% of employees leave before becoming fully competent. Furthermore, employees hide 68% of the mistakes made because they don’t trust their leaders, and managers spend 8 weeks per year correcting poor performance.

Impact #3: Customers

Poor leadership is associated with a 10% underperformance in terms of customer satisfaction, which degrades customer relationships, market share and revenue.

Impact #4: Results

Poorly led companies typically miss their strategic targets, and underperform in terms of sales revenue, business growth and earnings.

What about well-led organizations?

According to researchers, healthy leadership is characterized by the following:

A compelling vision (think of SpaceX), spending time with customers, building good strategy, an empowering culture with clear goals, and strategic & operational alignment. Effective leaders have high emotional intelligence that results in employee respect, recognition & support, and an ability to delegate effectively & provide performance feedback to help staff excel.

Impact #1: Processes

Effective leaders give their employees what they need to get the job done. They minimize bureaucracy, ensure process effectiveness, remove constraints, and support their staff with good systems & tools so they can perform well. For example, Amazon’s fulfillment robots carry inventory to employees so they can work quickly — without having to walk 15 miles during 10-hour shifts picking items off shelves.

Impact #2: People

In well-led companies, at least 90% of employees understand how they contribute to strategic success, and 70% of employees are fully engaged at work. Good leadership drives down employee turnover by 9%, and drives up productivity by 30%. Eastman Chemical Company is one of Forbes’s top five places to work: why? They genuinely value their employees, make employee satisfaction a priority, and provide opportunities for career advancement.

Impact #3: Customers

In well-led companies, at least 70% of customers regard the company as ‘easy to do business with’, good leadership drives up customer satisfaction by 4%, which drives up market share by 6%. Cisco’s CEO spends 50% of his time with customers to tune in attentively to their needs.

Impact #4: Results

Well-led companies (e.g. Tesla) outperform most of their peers. Healthy leadership can drive a 60% improvement in the rate of business growth, a 22% increase in sales, a 20% increase in profits, and an earnings-per-share 147% higher than their competitors. What’s good leadership worth to your company?

Key points

  1. Because of its widespread and amplifying impact, leadership is the single most important driver of performance. Dysfunctions at the top cascade throughout the organization. However, a high-performance team at the top helps the whole company excel.
  2. Don't think that a leader's main responsibility is to "get the right people on the bus and into the right seats, while getting the wrong people off the bus.” The leader’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the bus is going in the right direction. If not headed the right way, good people (customers and staff) will get off your bus.
  3. Don’t send everyone else for leadership training unless you’re setting an excellent example — otherwise you simply breed cynicism. The best leaders serve their staff and customers, and champion an inspiring cause. Every leader should look in the mirror and ask, “Why would anyone want to follow you?”

The bottom line

A company will never rise above the ability of the executive leadership team. So invest first in building a high-performance team where it matters most — on the bridge, in the wheelhouse.

(This is the third of a series of articles on optimizing manufacturing performance)

Warwick Alcock is a management consultant who helps leadership teams with strategy and business performance improvement. He has extensive experience working with companies both in Minnesota and abroad. He can be contacted at

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The Search for Qualified Employees

This is not a new phenomenon, rather the search for qualified workers has been a national issue in the manufacturing sector for a number of years now. As a country we tilted the scale a bit too far in encouraging high school grads to go immediately into college. 

With an annual college dropout rate of over 44%, it should be obvious that the college path is not always the best fit for every high school grad.

While the technical and vocational schools are trying working hard to bridge the gap, until they catch up, here are some ideas on how to attract candidates from the existing pool.

Set up highly visible navigation on your website where you can post job openings.  A lot of companies post openings, but they are often hard to find on the website.  When you are posting these openings, optimize them by incorporating search phrases a candidate might use to look for this type of job into the post itself.  Done properly, Google will connect these keyword descriptions in your job posting to the people searching and your opening has a better chance of coming up in a Google search.

Add a “refer a friend” link to each job posting on your website.  Say, for example, someone searching for a job finds your job posting online and decides it’s not right for them but they have a friend who might be interested.  If you add a “refer a friend” link to each of your openings the person looking at the job can click on it and it immediately opens their email program and attaches the job description to the email as an attachment.  All that needs to be done now is to add your friend’s email address, tell them you found a job they might like, and hit send.

Be sure that you have an online application that one can fill out online and immediately send back to your HR department rather than print, fill out and mail or fax.

Social Media may also be another place where you can have a conversation about your company, its culture and the great products you make.  A lot of companies are still uncomfortable with social media.  That’s a good reason to find a resource who knows how to work with it.  I’m not talking about someone in their 20’s who grew up with it, rather a professional who knows how to optimize conversations so they are more likely to come up in a Google search to attract more people to the conversation. 

If you do incorporate social media, keep an important part of your audience in mind millennials. Millennials fit into the 18–35 year old range. In their world, everything happens on the internet. It is the only place they go to find, well, anything! They’ve probably never seen a Yellow Pages and have no idea what a Thomas Registry is. They also respond to different things than other age groups.

Assuming that you are industry competitive in your pay and benefits, Millennials are less interested in spending much time talking about that part of the job. On average, this group is more interested in being challenged in their work. They want to know if there are continuing education programs subsidized by the company and if there is room to grow with your company. They also want to understand their role in the bigger picture and how the work they do impacts the final product. Millennials are far too impatient to wait until their 3 month review comes up to get feedback on how they are progressing in their job. They want immediate feedback on how they can improve. They also have a tendency to be more engaged in social issues, so do talk about how your company helps out in the community.

If your company is located outside a metropolitan area, you may find value in anticipating questions from a top candidate who may need to relocate to your town. In these cases you may need to sell not just the candidate on the job but also the spouse and children.  Have information prepared ahead of time that talks about the quality of life in your community, the schools and churches, the cost of living, and contacts they could speak to about housing options. Find out if the spouse also works and, if so, what kind of work they do. Network with other local businesses to refer a spouse to possible job openings for them, as a dual income may be necessary to make the move work for the family.

Finally, get connected with the closest technical or vocational school to your company. Make it a point to meet with administrators and instructors who are training the workers you may need to hire. Offer to bring a class to your plant once a year to get them excited about your company, the work you do and the equipment you have. Talk about work at your company not as a “job” but as a “career”.  While these graduates may not be your first choice, with a little in-house mentoring they may be your best employees in the near future.

Bob Koehler is a partner in Timm Digital Marketing, a full service marketing company specializing in the manufacturing sector. He can be reached at or (952) 232-6163.

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More in Store for Members in 2015

A majority of our 400-plus manufacturing member companies (up 15% this year) have had a successful and productive 2014. A few economic indicators suggest 2015 will bring continued growth for Minnesota manufacturers.

As reported by Ernie Goss of Creighton University, the MN Business Condition Index shows the economy has been above growth neutral for 23 straight months. DEED reports current unemployment in the Twin Cities metro at 3.9% in contrast to the US rate of 5.8%. Lastly, via an informal poll most of the members in our Leaders Alliance peer groups are anticipating an 8-12% increase in sales over 2014.

To respond to our members growing needs, we have improved all three of our major value streams and expanded member benefits:

  • Company Membership
  • Training & Education
  • Leaders Alliance Peer Groups

Company membership now includes the option to download educational Webinars on-demand. Available topics include: Sustaining 5S Efforts, Value Stream Mapping, and Visual Management. Recent Webinars will be archived so you can gather your team and watch them at a time convenient for you.  View them here: We’ve also expanded capacity at our live Educational Seminars and Webinars. Companies may now send up to 5 individuals per event at no cost - as a part of your membership.  

Our 2015 Compensation and Benefits Survey includes new industry sector categories and position titles (over 175) to better match your companies’ job descriptions. If you want to make sure you receive an invitation to participate in the 2015 survey send us an email or call.

Workshops and Certifications have also been enhanced. On-site training options now include customized Certifications with tailored projects, report-outs, progress reporting, and online testing. We can now help those looking for referrals to partner with the state and receive funding to support training efforts. Additionally, look for our new practical and experiential Workshops to include:

  • Lean Product Development
  • Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning
  • Decision Making in a Lean Environment

All workshops include tools and templates available online to attendees, to help you apply what you have learned without having to recreate hard copy handouts.

Lastly, the new Leaders Alliance Presidents peer group successfully launched with 9 new members in 60 days.  Come January 2015 we will be launching the Leaders Alliance Strategy Implementation group. This expansion to 20 Leaders Alliance groups will provide even more leaders with the resources necessary to effect in-depth improvements and sustainable growth.

In closing, I want to show appreciation for our staff, advisory board members, peer instructors, peer group facilitators, volunteers and members for the inspiration to continuously grow, improve, and stay competitive through the sharing of education and resources on a peer-to-peer basis. I am looking forward to recognizing and celebrating with those companies that share information and continuous improvement experiences to strengthen the Minnesota manufacturing community this coming April at our Manufacturer of the Year Award ceremony.

Kirby Sneen is the Vice President of the Manufacturers Alliance - an association of over 400 manufacturers in the greater Twin City area. This industrial association specializes in sharing education and resources peer-to-peer. Kirby may be reached at (763) 557-8007,, or

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MN Economic Outlook

November survey results mark the 24th straight month Minnesota’s Business Conditions Index has remained above growth neutral. The November index declined to a still solid 58.0 from October’s 63.7.

Components of the index from the November survey of supply managers were new orders at 61.3, production or sales at 63.7, delivery lead time at 56.1, inventories at 58.5, and employment at 50.6. “During the national recession, December 2007 to June 2009, Minnesota lost almost 31,000, or approximately 14 percent, of its manufacturing jobs.  Since the recovery began in July 2009 the state has regained almost 20,000, or approximately 64 percent, of the lost manufacturing jobs. Our surveys of businesses in Minnesota indicate the state’s manufacturing employment will return to pre-recession levels in the latter half of 2015,” said Goss.

Dr. Ernest Goss of Creighton University, used the same methodology as The National Association of Purchasing Management to compile this information. An index number greater than 50 percent indicates an expansionary economy, and an index under 50 percent forecast a sluggish economy, for the next three to six months.

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