August, 2015

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New and Renewing Companies

Thank you to the following members who joined or renewed your membership in the past 30 days!

Air Automation
Anderson Automatics
AP Engineering
Apothecary Products
Arrowhead Electrical 
Aspen Research 
August Ash
BePex Intl
Bondhus Corp
Cummins Power Gen
Design Ready Controls
Dynamic Group
Electronic Systems
Faribault Foods
Flex Craft
Gyrus ACMI/Olympus
Imperial Plastics 
Interplastic Corp
La Machine Shop 
LAI Intl Midwest
Laser Peripherals 
Life Health LLC
Momemtum Enterprises
OMG Electronic Chem
Process Displays
Questar Assessment
SBS Group of Co
Trend Enterprises 
Tru Vue

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New State Law Mandates Business Recycling

Effective Jan. 1, businesses in the 7-County Metro must recycle at least 3 materials. For more information, assistance, and grants, click here or contact Bjorn Olson (612) 334-3388 x108.

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Article Index

Lean Leader: Jeri Betsinger, Sign-Zone, Inc.
Article by: Jeri Betsinger

Jeri Betsinger is the Continuous Improvement Coordinator with Sign-Zone, Inc. in Ramsey, Minnesota. She has been with the company for 7 months.

Companies Built on Purpose
Article by: Diane Nettifee

A medical manufacturing company headed into a transition knowing the stakes were high. A strategic acquisition would double their size from 200 to 400 employees.

Why Manufacturers Should Treat Digital Marketing Like Their Plant Floor
Article by: Dan Derosier

We live and work in a digital age and it permeates our daily routines. The era of a prospect waiting for a sales rep to deliver information about your product has long passed.

How to RE-THINK your IT: Why Having the Right Technology Partner Matters
Article by: Keith Schoolcraft

FlexMation is a manufacturing company based out of Burnsville, Minnesota. They design and manufacture custom aluminum structural framing products for other manufacturing & industrial businesses, and have been in business since 2003.

Minnesota Diversified Industries: A Business With A Purpose
Article by: John Hehre

Every business, whether for-profit or non-profit must bring in enough revenue to cover costs—that’s business. Most people are familiar with the differences in revenue generation between these two types of organizations.

MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

The July Minnesota Business Conditions Index rose to 54.8 from 54.3 in June.

Lean Leader: Jeri Betsinger, Sign-Zone, Inc.

Jeri Betsinger is the Continuous Improvement Coordinator with Sign-Zone, Inc. in Ramsey, Minnesota. She has been with the company for 7 months.

Sign-Zone Inc. is a privately held company headquartered in Brooklyn Center that manufactures portable, lightweight displays, signage and other event products under its Showdown Displays, Creative Banner Displays and Victory Corps Brands. Sign-Zone has received recognition, accolades and awards for its remarkable growth, innovative products and legendary service.

Where did you receive your Lean training/experience?
I received my Lean Leader Certification from the Manufactures Alliance in 2014. During the certification, I learned such things as leading and training improvement teams, overcoming resistance to change, continuous improvement idea systems, leaders standard work, lean assessments and persuasive coaching and influencing. I have been an active member of the Leaders Alliance Peer group which has given me opportunities to grow my experience through understanding how lean concepts and tools can be applied in many different workplace situations.

How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fuels the passion for Continuous Improvement?
I got my first exposure to lean in 2008 while working in manufacturing as a welder fabricator. During this time I began to learn the tools and concepts of lean such as 5S, 8 wastes, Plan-Do-Check-Act and Root Cause Analysis. I welcomed the opportunity to become a Continuous Improvement Coach and split my duties between welding and coaching. It is during my time as a coach that I quickly began to expand my knowledge of lean. Shortly after becoming a coach I made the decision to make a career change and pursue continuous improvement as my full time career. In 2013 I made the shift to 100% of my time dedicated to lean by taking the position of Continuous Improvement Coordinator. In February of 2015, I joined the amazing team at Sign-Zone Inc.

It is through this unique journey that I discovered my true passion for teaching, coaching and developing people to understand the power of lean. I enjoy helping people make their daily lives better not by telling them the answer but by challenging them to self-discover how to solve issues. There is nothing more gratifying than giving individuals the knowledge and tools to make a difference.    

What are your current Lean oriented activities?

  • Identifying and Facilitating Kaizen Events
  • Implementation of the 5S Program Including 5S auditor
  • Efficient manufacturing material flow and cell layout 
  • Working closely with Supervision, to Train and Implement Lean Tools and Concepts
  • Training and Education

What were the lessons learned in leading or training your team on a Lean project?
There is an art to leading and training improvement groups and much like the Plan-Do- Check- Act cycle it takes multiple attempts to really understand how it all works. Through my experience one thing that is often a struggle is not solving the problem, but instead asking the correct questions so that the team can come to the solution. The key to being a successful leader is to be a good listener and recognizing people’s strengths so that you can set them up for success.

What are the next steps in the Lean journey for your company?
We plan on continuing our efforts in moving towards true Value Streams with a focus on line balancing and batch elimination and a continued focus on 5S and waste elimination. Also, we plan on starting to apply lean concepts in the office. And last but not least is educate!

How would you describe peer-to-peer education & training to your colleague?
Peer-to-peer education & training is an effective and efficient way to gain knowledge about relevant topics from individuals that have been or are currently in a similar situation.

Jeri Betsinger is the Continuous Improvement Coordinator at Sign-Zone Inc. in Ramsey, Minnesota. She can be reached at

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Companies Built on Purpose

A medical manufacturing company headed into a transition knowing the stakes were high. A strategic acquisition would double their size from 200 to 400 employees.

To realize the strategic advantage getting the culture right was crucial. They began by defining the core of their culture; purpose (why they existed), core values (how they behaved) and vision.

Fast forward. How do you put the values and purpose into action?

The story of Tu:
Following the all company conversation about purpose, merger we launched leadership training for managers. Each participant was charged with identifying a change project to further the purpose “To create a culture and products that improve people’s lives.”

Tu, a machine operator titled his leadership project “Not My Job." He worked with 25 machinists from the two merged companies. Tu noticed an operator sitting by an idling machine and asked if he would wanted to learn to change the material. The operator replied, “That’s not my job!”

Tu, wanted to change this. He created and offered a training program for his co-workers. At first 2 volunteers came forward. Tu bought shiny blue folders for the training materials. He had them walk through the shop past other workers to a machine for embossing their names on the folder. Soon, people were asking “how can I get one of those blue folders.” By the end of 6 months Tu had over half the group cross trained on the equipment. When asked how he did it Tu replied:

“I helped people see that our purpose is to improve lives. It’s about the medical products we make, AND improving each of our lives. By working together we improve each other’s lives. WE learn and improve our chances to stay employed, provide for our families and educate our children. We improve our lives together. When we do the right thing, do it in an excellent way, we all enjoy a good life.”

We all want a Tu working for us. Tu believed his work had purpose and with no ‘positional’ power, he led others to see their purpose as well!

Building a company on purpose requires a deep dive into clarifying who you are, why you exist and bringing it to the surface to live it out in alignment with what you do. The process is a deep dive into intentional formation of yourself and for your teams - all of which drive the culture.

The process is called SCUBA: A deep dive process to discover and align your purpose and values©

  • Set your Vision and Strengthen your Resolve
  • Commit to the journey
  • Unify everyone
  • Build community
  • Align everything

Set the Vision and Strengthen your Resolve
What is your vision of success? Does it include a purpose and values which are foundational to who you are? Setting the Vision and strengthening your resolve means they are more than words on a website. You have a vision and resolve to work your talk. Performance without Purpose is too small. Purpose AND performance anchor your success indicators. If you are making money and your culture is lackluster and disengaged, it won’t last long. If your culture is self-focused and lack performance you are heading for a different ditch. You need both; Performance and Purpose (P & P Company) are crucial.
Key Question: “What are our core values, purpose and vision? Are we clear in words and actions?”

Commit to the journey
As a leader, when you commit to the journey of becoming a P & P company, you make a promise, to yourself and to the people you lead. You promise to be intentional in how your leadership impacts and shapes the culture. Each decision, conversation and choice to invest in one thing or another creates ripple impacts. Doing this work as a theme of the year doesn’t work, it must be a long term commitment to a way of being. Making time for investing in who you are as well as what you do requires a commitment.
Key Question: “How are we demonstrating a commitment to Performance and Purpose?”

Unify everyone
The root of the word Unify comes from the Latin word “unificare” which means “make one.” Think of times when you belonged to dynamic and effective team. What made them great? What made them effective? Most likely, you shared a purpose; a deep motivation that served something outside of yourselves AND you had the right team to put it into action. For Purpose and Performance to live together everyone must own it, not just a few top leaders. This part of the process involves creating intentional times and process for engaging, listening and generating a dialogue with the entire organization and creating an inspired shared vision of the culture you are building.
Key Question: “What opportunities do we make for people to become “one”? Where are we operating in silo’s vs one team?”

Build community
Companies that invest in building a community of work vs just a paycheck will attract and retain all the top talent they can use. When people connect and form a work community centered in accomplishing a meaningful purpose you don’t have to measure engagement – you see it! It is crucial to develop the rituals and rhythms that support ongoing relationship building so people feel they belong to something special together.
Key Question: Ask people two questions: Why did you come to work here? Why do you stay?

Align everything
The journey includes ongoing alignment of structures and processes. Harnessing your purpose in action includes everything from hiring to firing, onboarding, compensation, performance systems and your strategic approach to the market and more. When who you are aligns with what you do people feel and see a deep resonance that is tangible in the way people treat each other, deal with difficult tension and go beyond their comfort zone to find a way to bring out the best in each other. Determine your dashboard with key measures that indicate when you are on track or straying from your course.
Key Question: Where are we experiencing the strongest alignments in our company? How can we build on them?

Research shows companies who invest in living their purpose and values outperform their competitors by 6:1 and more! Research: 

“Whoever tells the stories in the culture defines the culture.” ~ Dr. David Walsh – Who is telling the stories in your culture and what are they saying about why you do what you do?

Cumulative Performance

15 Years

10 Years

5 Years

3 Years






International FoEs





Good to Great Companies





S&P 500






Sisodia, R., Wolfe, D. B., & Sheth, J. N. (2014). Firms of endearment: How world-class companies profit from passion and purpose. Upper Saddle River: Wharton School Pub

Diane Nettifee is founder and president of Magis Ventures, a company that helps leaders align values and purpose with strategic actions to create strong, sustainable organizations. She has experience in executive leadership in manufacturing and service industries. Visit the website at or email her at

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Why Manufacturers Should Treat Digital Marketing Like Their Plant Floor

We live and work in a digital age and it permeates our daily routines. The era of a prospect waiting for a sales rep to deliver information about your product has long passed.

Many manufacturing companies have begun the transition to digital marketing, but are not taking full advantage of the targeting and data analytics that is possible with digital channels.

In our standard online evaluation of effective use of digital marketing, many manufacturing companies are scoring 35% or less. A failing grade in terms of search-ability. No other area in a company would be allowed to exist for long with such a low level of performance.

Yet many of these same companies can measure their manufacturing processes in terms of six sigma and the use of powerful statistical analysis tools. They have the discipline to apply these principles online, but just need some help on where to begin.

Here are 6 simple secrets that can help any manufacturing company launch successful online marketing campaigns:

1. Set goals for your online marketing efforts just like you would for your production line. Ask any plant manager how many finished products they produce in a week and they’ll respond immediately and with a specific number. Unfortunately, online marketing efforts in the industry are often not treated with the same precision. If a manufacturer’s website is receiving 10,000 visits per month, the marketing and sales team need to forecast their results with same accuracy. That means knowing exactly how many web forms, phone calls and qualified leads will be produced in any set timeframe.

Online Marketing Tip: Individualize the data in each online campaign by using unique URLs and phone numbers. This will track data from each campaign separately and clearly evaluate the performance of each online campaign.

2. Build your online presence like a flexible manufacturing line. Think of it this way, a manufacturer would never produce a product that was intentionally short of consumer expectations. The same reasoning goes for online marketing. As business and personal lives become increasing intertwined, online strategies must be flexible to assure digital content can be consumed anywhere, anytime on any device.

Online Marketing Tip: Always use responsive design when developing websites, landing pages and emails. This ensures online content can be consumed on any device, whether in the office, on a field sales tablet or on your mobile phone. Complete this mobile friendly test to find out if your website scales to mobile devices.

3. View your dealer channels like a critical sub-assembly. Suppliers are integral to your finished product. A manufacturer would never send valuable parts to a supplier for assembly without taking inventory or knowing when the assets would be returned. Yet every day, companies are sending valuable online inquiries to their distributor and dealer channels without tracking the inquiry or requesting any response on inquiry outcome; such as, “did they buy?” Recognizing this situation is the first step toward eliminating it. A company cannot evaluate the value of the inquiry or the performance of distributors or dealers without this closed loop feedback.

Online Marketing Tip:  Qualify all inquiries within five minutes of receiving the contact. Distribute qualified leads to your channels with the agreement that they close the loop with the manufacturer by providing the outcome of the contact.  For example, did inquiry buy or not. Collecting this feedback will provide the required data to evaluate the demand chain in the same fashion as your supply chain.

4. Treat your sales reps like your most expensive machine on the shop floor. Sophisticated, semi-automated machines are expected to run at near full capacity. Think of online inbound inquiries as valuable parts. Failing to qualify those leads before sending them to your well-oiled machine is similar to sending poor quality parts through the best equipment without any advance QA.
Online Marketing Tip: Only send qualified leads to your sales team or dealers. Nurture online inquiries with triggered, automated email and phone campaigns. These tactics are best suited for supporting mid-funnel inquiries and allow the sales team to focus on sales-ready leads making the best use of their time and skills.

5. Configure Google Analytics like plant floor monitoring software. Most manufacturers have monitoring software that collects summary data on the overall efficacy of operations on the shop floor. Manufacturers quickly rattle these numbers off and they are used as a benchmark of success. Now ask the same company for the last 12 months of online traffic reports by campaign source and they’ll give you a blank stare. When configured properly, Google Analytics or other web analytics tools can monitor, track and store vital online information and provide comprehensive reports. Leveraging this data is essential to summarizing the overall effectiveness of any online marketing campaign.

Online Marketing Tip: When configuring data tracking on the website and campaigns, begin with the end goal in mind. Work backwards from the business goals, identifying critical data to collect along the way. After pinpointing the data which will be in both your online and CRM tools, set up meaningful reports that track the online funnel results and review with the marketing and sales team on a regular schedule.

6. Invest in online presence the same way you would a new manufacturing line. Implementing anything in manufacturing without proper planning, testing and training is bound to fail. Yet, it’s shocking how many companies ignore those same principals when launching new websites. In some cases, website traffic will drop by 50% or more. Management would not be pleased if a new multi-million dollar manufacturing line produced 50% less parts than the old line. Think of search engines as production workers. If they are not trained on how to operate the new line, they won’t deliver the expected results.

Online Marketing Tip: All websites should begin with a blueprint, similar to planning your production line. Outline foundational SEO elements in the plan, including technical and structural website design. Fix the foundation first before focusing on adding new engaging and relevant content.

The bottom-line is that manufacturers have focused on optimizing the plant floor to gain production efficiencies and competitive advantages. In making the same commitment to digital marketing programs, manufactures can achieve similar proficiencies in generating new, high converting leads for sales follow-up and revenue generation. It’s time for manufactures to start treating their online marketing efforts with the same pride and respect as they do their plant floor. Let’s face it, we live in a digital world where it’s more critical than ever for manufacturing companies to apply their plant floor expertise to online marketing. The manufacturers who make the commitment to treating digital marketing like their plant floor, will have a real competitive advantage. 

Dan Derosier is a manufacturing engineer and a thought leader around online lead generation. He is a recognized speaker on developing effective digital strategies, processes and measurement for manufacturing companies in the U.S. and internationally. Currently, Dan is a Vice President and Partner at Three Deep Marketing.

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How to RE-THINK your IT: Why Having the Right Technology Partner Matters

FlexMation is a manufacturing company based out of Burnsville, Minnesota. They design and manufacture custom aluminum structural framing products for other manufacturing & industrial businesses, and have been in business since 2003.

The co-founders Jim Eng & Steve McClintick saw an opportunity to build a small business utilizing good tools and a great business model.

I met Jim and Steve at a round table event focused on working on our businesses. Unbeknownst to me, FlexMation needed to rethink their approach to the way their technology supported them. Through the course our conversation, we both realized it made sense to take a closer look at what was going on in the way their technology infrastructure was built.

First, we needed to understand the current state of the union. We took FlexMation through an assessment processes to get a deeper understanding of what was going on: how things were configured and what they wanted to get out of their systems. I believe technology decisions should be based on data and goals, and the best data to use is your own. Then you can begin to align your technology to core business processes.

The Network Assessment that the Gurus [aCOUPLEofGURUS] presented to us was very eye-opening. They came back to us with a wealth of information that was way beyond our expectations. What surprised me the most was that it uncovered a lot of stuff that we weren’t even aware of – stuff that we took for granted, but was keeping us from taking full advantage of our technology.

The other thing that stuck out was just the way they laid out and presented the information to us. They were very thorough in explaining their recommendations, and answering any questions we had. After the process, it was clear to us that we were ready to partner with the Gurus.

After the Network Assessment process, we put together a technology solution. Part of our initial project with them was getting them set up with a full Office 365 implementation and start leveraging portions of the cloud, while protecting the investments they have already made. The goal was to help them streamline their communication and productivity.

Before our project with the Gurus, we had a severe problem with SPAM and junk email. It was to the point that it was really hindering our day-to-day productivity, and we knew we needed to make a change.

When aCOUPLEofGURUS suggested we move to an Office 365 solution, we were excited about the increase in productivity that Exchange Online and Skype for Business could have on our business. But the greatest impact it had on us was the immediate elimination of SPAM from our email inboxes. Because of Exchange Online Protection, the SPAM has simply gone away, and it’s been amazing.

Now that FlexMation’s network is more secure and stable, they can focus on more strategic initiatives.

Since working with the Gurus, we have been able to tighten up our network, and mitigate many of the issues that arise. Stuff is just handled very rapidly and very professionally, no matter who is calling them. Nobody here hesitates to pick up the phone and give the Gurus a call. It’s been really nice that the Gurus are just there, and help is offered up willingly, and with good follow up to make sure things are being taken care of the way they need to be.

Now that we are engaged with the Gurus, we are excited to be partnering with them to work on a paperless technology solution to further increase the efficiency of our business.

FlexMation has been wonderful to work with. It’s a pleasure managing their technology for them so they can focus on building their business. Nothing makes me happier than being able to help another Twin Cities small business grow. 

Keith Schoolcraft is the Chief Executive Guru of aCOUPLEofGURUS based out of Minneapolis. He founded the company in 2002, and has since built it to be one of the premier Managed Services Providers in the Twin cities. Give the Gurus a call at 612-454-4878 or

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Minnesota Diversified Industries: A Business With A Purpose

Every business, whether for-profit or non-profit must bring in enough revenue to cover costs—that’s business. Most people are familiar with the differences in revenue generation between these two types of organizations.

There is a growing class of non-profit organizations known as Social Enterprises that have a dual, equally important goal to create value for the common good through commercial activities. Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) is one such non-profit organization providing meaningful employment opportunities for all people with disabilities. They have been providing opportunities for 51 years! They embrace a model of inclusion and integration, where individuals with and without disabilities work side-by-side in a supportive business environment. In 2014 MDI covered 97% of its costs through the sale of its products and services. This level of self-sufficiency speaks highly of the work being done by MDI to carry out its philosophy and mission.

MDI has three business segments, standard & custom packaging solutions, production & fulfillment services, and environmental services that operate out of four locations: Deer River, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, and the Twin Cities. They are best known for  the plastic totes used by the U.S. Postal Service, a product which gives them ongoing visibility in the marketplace. Constructed from corrugated polyethylene, a material used extensively in their line of packaging products, MDI has manufactured over 80 million  plastic totes. The Grand Rapids facility manufactures the entire product – design, corrugated sheet extrusion, die-cuts, imprinting, and assembly. The final product is shipped to government and commercial customers across the USA and beyond. The Twin Cities and Hibbing plants also assemble product, and the Twin Cities location provides production and fulfillment services, including light assembly, inspection, packaging and shipping for a number of commercial customers, in retail, manufacturing and printing. MDI’S flexible workforce and facilities offer on demand and just-in-time services, completing some projects—from quote to completion—in as little as  one to two weeks. The environmental services unit, located in Deer River, provides recycling, office and facility cleaning, landscaping, and snow removal services.

MDI is justifiably proud of its production capabilities. The Twin Cities plant is clean and well-organized. Production lines are designed so they can be reconfigured easily, depending on the nature and scope of work required, and work flows smoothly through the plant with little wasted time or superfluous effort. Schedules are tracked with simple day-by-hour charts and are visible to everyone on the shop floor. While metrics change depending on the product and service mix, displays  using  the green-yellow-red classification systems have been standardized to make early warnings (yellow) and problems (red) easier to  identify and resolve. The company boasts 98.5% on time shipments, even with large order/short lead time jobs. The Services and Fulfilment businesses are 100% on time. Finally, MDI maintains remarkable inventory control. On one government audit of $150,000,000 worth of inventory, the discrepancy was $7.48, which translates to 99.995% accuracy.

MDI employs creative and innovative engineers developing new products and providing cost-effective, light assembly and fulfillment services. The team recently developed a telescoping plastic container for a customer that resulted in a space-saving of over 60% in their warehouse. MDI also manufactures a water-jet brick for the metal and materials cutting industry.. MDI engineers continue to develop custom solutions for customers on a daily basis that impact their operations and manufacturing efficiency. 

True to its mission, 56% of MDI’s full-time workforce, over 250 employees, is identified with some form of disability. The company will employ temporary labor to handle spikes in demand. These figures illustrate how well MDI accomplishes its mission. They are important in maintaining contractual standards, some of which require a minimum percent of the workforce to be disability eligible. MDI has high expectations for the workforce, requiring all employees adhere to the same attendance, performance and behavioral standards. The employees  live up to and embrace these expectations. MDI provides at least minimum wage and benefits to all its employees, even though MDI is not required to by law.

MDI has a well-developed, comprehensive training program, including safety, ISO/quality management, customer service, and supervision. MDI is aware of the challenges posed by a blended workforce, and recognizes some people might feel uncomfortable working alongside people with disabilities. The focus of training, the efforts to “level the playing field”, is to demonstrate how people with different skills can work together. The result for MDI is that the employees believe in the mission and enjoy MDI’s culture and climate. The managers and team leaders in all the plants are  trained and skilled in cultivating and promoting acceptance in the workplace.

MDI recently joined the Manufacturers Alliance and is excited to learn from seasoned members, as well as share their unique business experiences, challenges and triumphs. Visitors are always welcome. MDI hopes they come away with new ideas inspired by both MDI’s product development processes and successful workforce practices.

MDI is successful in meeting any organization’s number one goal, making ends meet. MDI and other non-profits have an equally important objective of creating value for the greater good, and without a doubt MDI has achieved success. MDI is effectively and purposefully providing individuals with job opportunities that make them a contributing member of the economic community and a participant in the social community.

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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MN Economic Outlook

The July Minnesota Business Conditions Index rose to 54.8 from 54.3 in June.

Components of the index from the monthly survey of supply managers were new orders at 52.8, production or sales at 50.8, delivery lead time at 56.2, inventories at 59.0, and employment at 54.5. “Minnesota durable and nondurable goods manufacturers are expanding jobs and economic activity. For example, food processors and businesses tied to vehicle manufacturing are experiencing very strong growth,” said Goss. From this time last year, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for Minnesota show a 0.6 percent decline in average weekly wages, but a 1.3 percent gain in jobs.

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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