March, 2016

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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!

Buhler Versatile USA
Engage Technologies
Synergy Health
Sunshine Heart
Danfoss Power Solutions
Division Stampings
Monroe Moxness Berg 
APG Cash Drawer
Pallet Service 
DiSC Profile.com
Clearfield
Instigate
MITGI
USDP
American Converters
MTS Systems  
Graybar Electric 
Illume Candle
Griffiths 
Bethany Press 
Trendex 
IRD Glass
Amesbury Group 
Gemini Inc.
Tillges Certified Orthotic Prosthetic
Delkor Systems
A Couple of Gurus
Carley Foundry 
UPS
Nahan Printing 
Arete Enterprising/Glacial Wood Products
G & K Services
Opportunity Partners



Upcoming Gears and Gadgets Event

The next Gears & Gadgets event is Thursday, April 28, Marriott West, 9960 Wayzata Blvd., Minneapolis. Click here for more information and to register.



Doing Business in Europe Symposium 2016

Registration is now open for “Doing Business in Europe” – a one-day symposium designed for Minnesota businesses interested in exporting to Europe or growing their business in Europe. If you have questions or are interested in a sponsorship or exhibitor table, contact:Steve Riedel, 651-259-7494



New Habitat ReStore Opening

A new Habitat ReStore is opening in South Minneapolis. Click here for more information. The ReStore's mission revolves around tax-deductible donations. If your facility has anything to offer, contact pete.okeefe@tchabitat.org.



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Article Index

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Article by: Peggy Weller

When it comes to marketing your product or company, good photography really can make a difference!


Researching and Finding Overseas Distributors
Article by: Jim Thomas

One key question that arose during a recent Minnesota Trade Office seminar was how to find an overseas business partner.


Ask The IP Attorney
Article by: Patterson Thuente IP

If you have a burning intellectual property questions, you can ask it by visiting the Q&A web page or emailing Tye Biasco at biasco@ptslaw.com.  


Process Automation: The Next Step to Smoother Manufacturing
Article by: Keith Schoolcraft

We've all seen the movies of giant businesses running like, pardon the pun, well-oiled machines. 


Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Article by: Robert Backes

Are best-in-breed ATS solutions a possibility for small and mid-sized companies?


MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

The February Minnesota Business Conditions Index climbed to 52.1 from January’s 50.1.


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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

When it comes to marketing your product or company, good photography really can make a difference!

Companies big and small know the value of a photograph to showcase their products and illustrate how they work. Sell sheets, brochures and websites look far more appealing when photos are shown alongside the copy.

Today’s digital cameras can make anyone a photographer, and sometimes a company or division can get by with a quick “point-and-shoot” picture taken by an engineer or product marketer. But when does it make sense to spend the money on really good photography taken by a professional?

When to hire a good photographer
Strengthening the brand is one very big reason. One of our clients is Aaron Lindholm, President of Veloci Products in Savage, MN. His company recently went through a re-brand of the entire company. It’s only been a few months since the re-branding process was completed, but the marketing materials and photography already are getting noticed.

“We’ve hired a few new sales reps in the last couple of months, and they’ve mentioned the high quality of the marketing materials,” said Lindholm. “I can tell you that they (the photographs) have contributed immensely to the success of our re-brand and will continue to play a vital role in our marketing efforts in the future.”

If you require product or location photography outside of the local area, hiring a good photographer means that each photo will be aligned with your brand strategy. Sometimes it makes sense to send a photographer with whom you have had an established relationship who understands the quality and style of your brand so you get the same look and feel, every time.

Krae Lausch, one of our long-time clients and a creative director for several well-known companies in Minnesota said recently, “When I worked for a national fitness chain, I couldn’t afford to go on every shoot with the photographer; my budget wouldn’t allow for it. Each time a location project came up, I trusted him (the photographer) to come up with the type of imagery that is consistent with our brand strategy each and every time—no exceptions.”

If you don’t have a relationship with a photographer, it is often worth the effort to do an extensive search to make sure the person you hire can replicate the style that supports your product(s) and company. It’s a well-known fact that a consistent look and feel strengthens a brand – inconsistency does just the opposite!

Things to consider when hiring a photographer
Besides a consistent brand strategy that shows your products at their best, what are some other things to think about when hiring a photographer? You’ll save yourself a lot of time and money – and ensure a quality photograph – when you consider these tips:

1. Specialties: Even with professionals, there are vast differences in experience and specialties. If you need shots of medical products being used in a lab, operating room or other type of environment, think twice before hiring a wedding or high school portrait photographer!

2. Look at their portfolio: Can they shoot products in a variety of different environments? Can they capture reflections, metals, transparent materials and other challenging aspects that are important product features?

Tape

It can be very important to capture the tiniest detail of a product. A photo of medical adhesive tape shows how it is constructed. Photo by Pat Barry. InsideOut Studios. Click here to view an enlarged photo.


Gauge

Even industrial products can be photographed to catch the attention of the viewer. Arrangement, lighting and backdrops can enhance the look of gauges, sensors, and other related products. Photo by Pat Barry, InsideOut Studios. Click here to view an enlarged photo.


Monitor

This photo was taken to highlight the mounting mechanism behind the flat panel TV screen. Photo by Pat Barry, InsideOut Studios. Click here to view an enlarged photo.

3. What about the speed of moving parts? Can they show how your product is constructed if that is an important selling feature?

4. If the photography needs to be on location do they understand the requirements of shooting in a clean room, a commercial kitchen, a manufacturing plant or other environment where safety or other standards are in place? You don’t want to spend time training them!

5. Do they require a time minimum? Some studios will charge by the day or half day, others charge by the hour. It’s good to know that upfront so you don’t have any surprises when you see the bill!

6. Buyouts: Some photographers will charge a hefty fee for a complete buyout. Others will charge less if they grant unlimited usage. Unlimited usage means you may be able to use the image in any medium, for any time length but third party usage is restricted. Be sure to check with the photographer about the fees involved and what they cover.

7. Ask your photographer how long they archive images. File space can be expensive and it may be that the photographer does not store images for an extended length of time. Once they deliver the files to you, they may no longer archive the images. Or, they’ll keep them for a few months but no more.

These tips are handy to keep on hand when shopping for a photographer. But fees are also important.

A breakdown of photography fees
Ask for an estimate if you have not worked with the photographer before. Here’s what could be included:

a. Photographer’s fee: This is the photographer’s time and may vary depending on their experience, whether the shoot is in the studio, on location, etc. They may charge by the hour, a half day, a full day or by project.
   
b. Photo assistant: Some photo shoots are more involved and require the help of an assistant. He or she can help speed up the shoot and simply provide more arms and legs when hauling equipment, arranging lights, managing digital files, etc.
   
c. Trip charge: This is the cost to and from a photo shoot if it is on location.

d. Backgrounds: Photographers may need to shoot your product on a certain backdrop. Chances are, the product may be shot on white and then outlined so it can be dropped into a catalog, sell sheet or other medium.

e. Talent: Are models needed to demonstrate or show off the product? Fees may vary if the image requires just hands, feet or full figure.

f. Location: Photo shoots done in a studio are usually included in the photographer’s fee unless he or she doesn’t have a studio and needs to rent one. Photo shoots done at a particular location (if it isn’t your office or facility) will most likely charge a location usage fee. In some cases, a professional scout is needed to find the right location, secure permits, etc.

g. Post production fee: This generally covers converting the raw capture file into a usable file format and includes some basic retouching and file optimization.

While it may seem expensive to hire a professional, remember that most professional photographers have had years of training and understand how to get good photography under a variety of circumstances. From products shot in a controlled studio environment to the logistics and environmental hazards of a location shoot, a good photographer will be aware of and plan accordingly so you will get the best photos at a fair price.  And the price spent on good photography can be well worth it. As Liz Hager, art director at Milestone AV Technologies put it: “Our company is known for our quality, innovation and customer service, and we aim to create marketing and communication resources that meet the same standard. Professional product photography is a critical component of these materials.”

Ultimately, professional photography can be a critical component to your marketing message and to your company’s image as well. It’s definitely something to consider!

Peggy Weller is an account manager with InsideOut Studios which provides marketing photography and video for B to B and B to C clients throughout Minnesota and the U.S. Contact her at mail@insideoutstudios.com

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Researching and Finding Overseas Distributors

One key question that arose during a recent Minnesota Trade Office seminar was how to find an overseas business partner.

It is a daunting task to research and select overseas distributors. 

This is not a customer search it is a partner search that entails significant risks to be mitigated. You want partners with strong histories and references when looking at a partnering relationship.

There is simple preparation that needs completion before you start looking for a partner. What is this preparation:

i)     Complete a profile of your most successful distributor either in the US (if not foreign business) or overseas (if you have one). You need to know which traits you are looking for in a distributor partner.

(1)   What skills do they have made them successful? 

(2)   Was it their sales team, leadership, location, local marketing, ease of doing business that was the key to their success?

ii)    Review your web site. It will be the first impression you give a prospective distributor and you want to appear to be a successful willing business partner.  This will most likely be the first impression when approaching a new partner-make it positive and inviting.

(1)   Is your latest update within the past year?

(2)   Is there a listing of current distributors?

(3)   Is there a distributor information form on the web site that can be completed?

(4)   Is there an overseas customer testimonial somewhere on your web site?

iii)   Assign someone responsibility for overseeing the distributor recruitment process that can respond to inquiries within 48 hours. It is responsible to have someone that has a bias to action to keep the recruitment process moving along.

There are both primary and secondary sources of finding prospective distributors. Primary sources are already in your industry and will probably be known to you. Chances are that they will be able to “hit the ground running” with your products and have good product learning capabilities. Secondary sources do not have industry knowledge, but have success within that geographic market will have stronger supplier, logistics and management skills. Their salespersons will not have the industry or product knowledge necessary to “get out of the gate fast.” Generally primary sources are preferred because those salespeople within the organization will sense early wins and $ to make your products successful in that market. One finds the primary sources at your current trade shows, conferences and in industry publications. I generally look for referral sources:

  1. Large end user domestic customers that have overseas operations. Obtain foreign contacts from these current accounts, their buyers, and ask them how they buy your types of products in their market. One precaution-do not submit to selling direct or it may confuse your negotiations with a prospective distributor.
  2. Complementary suppliers.  Most distributors carry an extensive line card of products. Who are the complementary manufacturers in your industry?  Look at the complementary distributor web sites and find out who they partner with. Then, follow up with the complementary partner as you do your industry networking and gather information on the success of those partners.
  3. Competitor distributors. How do your competitors go to market in that country? Do they use distributors? Do they use multiple distributors? Have they terminated any previous distributors? You may be able to learn from competitors in this process.

Secondary sources of distributors can be derived from governmental sources wanting to promote exports. They are usually not industry savvy, but can provide good demographic data on the target country and local resources at a fraction of the cost to hire an outside consultant to assist you with translation and transportation.

  1. The US Department of Commerce offers a manufacturer/foreign distributor matching service called the Gold Key Program.  More information can be found at http://www.export.gov/salesandmarketing/index.asp. I have used this program with limited success. The problem is that the local foreign service offices do not know your industry and have many clients to serve. They cannot do an adequate job with such a broad program for your narrow market niche.
  2. Local state offices such as the Minnesota Trade Office has many educational resources, search capabilities and networking resources to help you, but cannot properly find overseas distributors. I found the Minnesota Trade Office to be a tremendous resource for country knowledge and networking with other local companies as they have done business in that specific country-use them for that.
  3. You will also get unsolicited inquiries from either your inbound Customer Service Center or web site from prospective distributors. I also reply promptly and professionally to these requests asking them to complete a prospective distributor information form. This process eliminates prospective distributors that are trawling to add product lines to their line card. The good respondents start a meaningful open dialogue.

Having found prospective distributors from both primary and secondary sources, I have learned one thing: Use all sources at your disposal at this stage of the distributor recruiting process because you never know which candidates will emerge. Follow every leads to its conclusion because not all search tactics work well for all markets and not all foreign markets are equal. 

If you have an existing distributor network and want to benchmark your internal sales management best practices I have prepared a confidential, quick, no charge survey for you on my website.

Jim is the founder of Dynamic Development LLC and has over 30 years of education and work experience in international business. He can be reached at jim@jimthomasintl.com or www.jimthomasintl.com.

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Ask The IP Attorney

If you have a burning intellectual property questions, you can ask it by visiting the Q&A web page or emailing Tye Biasco at biasco@ptslaw.com.  

Answers to your questions will be posted here in the MA Insider each month. Here is the answer to our March IP law question:

Q:  Who owns the intellectual property generated by my company?
A:  The short answer is … it depends. First, it depends on what IP you’re talking about— patents, trademarks, copyright, etc. Then it depends on the relationship between the originator of the IP (inventor, author, user of a trademark) and your company.

In the U.S., patent rights initially rest with the inventor. However, those rights can automatically pass to the company based on contract or because the inventor is an employee. If you have contracted with another company or an individual to design or fabricate on your company’s behalf, and your contract states that all inventions automatically vest in your company, then the individual inventors are contractually obligated to assign their patent rights to your company. Similarly, if an invention is made by your employees in the course of their normal duties as an employee, that invention belongs to your company. Your company may even possess rights to an invention if an employee invents outside of his/her normal duties, but utilizes your company’s equipment or materials. Patent rights can be licensed or transferred by a written instrument.

U.S. registered trademarks are owned by the person or company that registered the trademark. Unregistered trademarks are owned by the person or company that commercially uses the trademark first in connection with a good or service. Trademark use by a related company or licensee can benefit your company as the licensor, but that benefit requires an express license that evidences adequate control by your company as licensor. Failure to adequately police your trademarks can result in abandonment of rights. Transferring rights to a trademark requires transfer of the goodwill associated with the trademark.

U.S. copyrights initially vest in the author of the work (e.g., artist that draws your logo). As with patents, copyrights may immediately pass to your company if the work was created by an employee in the course of their employment or when the work is commissioned from another company or individual. The right of a copyright owner to exploit a work commercially can be licensed or transferred.

In any of these cases, it is prudent to have the originator of intellectual property (inventor/author/trademark user) assign the rights to your company in writing to substantiate your claim. Unless you know enough to ask, “Who owns our IP?" you may end up owning less than you expected.

Patterson Thuente IP is a full-service intellectual property law firm, with offices in Minneapolis and Brookings, SD. Contact them at 612.349.5740.

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Process Automation: The Next Step to Smoother Manufacturing

We've all seen the movies of giant businesses running like, pardon the pun, well-oiled machines. 

Whether it's just-in-time manufacturing or a sales effort that never misses a step, these scenarios have one thing in common: a documented business process so that nothing falls through the cracks.

But so many businesses don't have a process plan because the perception is that it's tedious and time consuming to create—or worse still, that they they're not the type of business that needs it. In addition, sometimes companies don’t have a sense of exactly what needs to be changed.

Recently at my own company, aCOUPLEofGURUS, an IT managed services provider, we started using a business process management software called Process Plan. Process Plan is easy to use, and I hoped it would help us iron out some glitches and inefficiencies in our sales pipeline.

The "system" we used previously involved a laundry list of different services to perform individual tasks and inevitably we missed steps. We might use our private cloud to share new customer files, sales automation tool for project management of the sales steps, and email for collaboration. What the application did for us was to help us uncover what's really going on with our new customer pipeline. Once we mapped it out, we could easily see we were missing steps.  So we modified the process and the modification then become the de facto process. 

Now we are offering the same strategy and software to our customers. In fact, during a recent quarterly review meeting with custom manufacturer Flexmation, I told Jim Eng, president and COO, about our own struggles with process automation. We'd just finished helping Flexmation update their IT infrastructure and now they were talking with us about moving to an entirely paperless sales system. Jim said that the paperless idea had been floating around for a few years, but as Flexmation got further into the process, they saw that going paperless was more than just adding a few PCs, tablets, and bar code scanner.

I thought Process Plan software could help. Jim immediately understood that process automation would help increase Flexmation's efficiency and business value. Of course, what creates an efficient company also increases shareholder value, so Flexmation was off on the right track. 

Jim outlined some of the challenges Flexmation faced. "Everything we do is custom," he said. "We make one of each widget so we can't come up with a standard process for things—that means everything from inventory thru machining is unique. Even prints can be different."

He continued talking about what their ideal solution would be. "I'm not looking for a simple little Bandaid. I don't want to do this twice. I want a system that will do what we need today and in the future," Jim continued.

By getting a process documented in electronic format, it's easy then to refine it. Problems either pop up right away or else they are eliminated because you've documented the process. The great thing about using Process Plan is that you don't need to be a programmer, either.  The only thing you need is a process-oriented mind set.

"What's helpful for us," says Jim, "Is that your company has been there and you guys understand how to identify process, and also about the cultural issues our company faces. While we must document our own process because we know and understand it, we never feel like we're going it alone."

I think about the way Salesforce changed the way companies handle sales and sales management—and I believe Process Plan is going to do that for business process. You can get your process off paper and documented in electronic format. This is a great complementary tool to LEAN or Six Sigma. 

Unfortunately, so many companies are focused on just getting their systems to run they aren’t even thinking about the process efficiency that technology can bring them. In some cases, maybe their systems are running pretty smoothly, but they are so used to looking at problem through their own lenses that things are foggy and they would rather not change for fear of the technology. But you don’t have to be afraid—with the right partner, it's easy to make a lasting change with huge benefits.

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 www.acoupleofgurus.com.

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Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Are best-in-breed ATS solutions a possibility for small and mid-sized companies?

Whether your company is a larger global organization, mid-sized, or small and growing, the competition for talent in most markets represents a major challenge. The need to compete demands better tools and methods, including a best-in-class ATS solution.

Graphic 1

Today’s ATS platforms go well beyond tracking candidate activity, data and ensuring compliance.  Integration with job boards and social media, inclusion of pre-screening questions, and candidate assessments are must-have features. The ATS also must provide candidates with a great experience from the moment they express interest in a position to later providing status updates. Today’s job seekers use their smart phones in all aspects of their lives; so an effective ATS must have mobile functionality. An effective ATS will also increase recruiter productivity through enhanced process functionality and the capability to connect with candidates via their preferred contact methods.

Graphic 2

Most companies that have modest recruiting budgets feel it’s out of reach to acquire, implement, and maintain an effective ATS platform. Annual ATS platform costs can easily range from $25,000 to $50,000, and that doesn’t even include start-up costs. In addition, maintenance and upgrades require internal resources. Many small and mid-sized companies do not have the financial or human resources to support a comprehensive ATS platform, so their choices are often limited to settling for a bare-bones simplistic ATS or not having one at all.

As a vendor partner in the talent acquisition space, Source2 has evolved its ATS platform to include cloud-based best-practice features that clients can access and utilize as part of their partnership with Source2. Following recent positive experiences, several Source2 clients have asked if they could migrate all of their job openings to Source2’s ATS. As a result of this increasing demand, Source2 has created a path for clients to gain access to an exceptional ATS without an exorbitant cost, varied implementation hassles, or ongoing maintenance requirements. Several case studies featuring ATS successes follow.

Case Study 1: Startup company in a hurry to hire new employees
A private equity-backed startup health services company had an urgent need to hire 500+ employees nationwide in a four-month period.

The company had a website that was built, but management had no time or resources to acquire and implement an ATS. Meanwhile, recruiting efforts needed to commence immediately after the company signed its first two contracts to provide services. Source2 was brought in as a partner to perform all recruiting aspects.

When candidates were approached for opportunities or viewed a posting, they would invariably go to the company’s website to find out more about the company. Without a link on the website, candidates had to leave the site to apply. Given this inconvenience, candidates were discouraged from applying. With an immediate need to hit their hiring targets as well as capture candidate data, the company began utilizing Source2’s ATS platform. Within two weeks, the ATS was installed and connected to the company’s website. In the first five months of actively recruiting through Source2’s ATS platform, the company reported:

  • 5,000 candidates expressed interest through the ATS,
  • 1,000 candidates made it through the ATS pre-screens,
  • 850 candidates were interviewed,
  • 500 candidates were hired, and
  • Candidate data was successfully transferred to the company’s existing HR platform.

Case Study 2: Large utility services company needs constant influx of recruits
In another example, a growing nationwide company has ongoing needs to recruit and hire approximately 5,000 employees per year for non-exempt positions that require a valid driver’s license and a good driving record. Military veterans are a great match for this type of positon, and the company wanted to perform a major outreach effort to locate candidates in this channel through the use of military and veteran job boards as a component of the search efforts.

Source2 had been a recruiting partner of this utility services company for more than a year, so when the time came to evaluate the company’s existing ATS platform, it was determined that the system was actually a hindrance to successfully recruiting these targeted professionals. In fact, the company’s existing ATS did not have automated pre-screening questions. In addition, the company found that hiring managers were wasting time vetting candidates who were not qualified or did not realize that the entire job was performed outside with ongoing driving requirements.

The company looked at several different ATS platforms; based on cost and functionality, they decided to implement the Source2 platform for all of their recruiting. Of particular importance in their decision was a text messaging feature of Source2’s ATS that allowed direct access to the candidates to schedule and confirm interviews. In addition, pre-screening questions were developed as part of the workflow in the Source2 ATS to prequalify candidates, and a short video was developed to provide a realistic preview of the position and work environment.

Graphic 3

To target military veterans and their spouses, Source2 connected to major and niche job boards, so open positions were automatically blasted out to this audience via the ATS. The overall solution is now working much better, as revealed by 2015 statistics:

  • 120,000 applicants pre-screened via the new Source2 ATS,
  • 20,000 candidates interviewed,
  • 5,000 candidates hired, and
  • Military veteran hires increased by 10 percent from 2014 and 20 percent from 2013.

The competition for talent in most labor markets today is fierce. For companies to successfully attract and hire the best talent, they must approach recruitment and hiring armed with the best resources and tools. A full-service ATS gives organizations a solid foundation upon which to integrate all recruiting and hiring functions. With recent advances in cloud technology, affordable ATS solutions are now within the reach of small and mid-size companies that may feel constrained by modest budgets.

Graphic 4

For more information about Source2, its solutions and ATS platform, contact Robert (Bob) Backes at Rbackes@source2.com or 612-508-8777. 

Robert Backes, East Pointe Consulting/Executive Vice President, Source2, has held senior human resources positions for 30+ years and has created and evolved HR programs, policies, and practices for rapidly growing companies. He represents Source2 Talent Acquisition Solutions and also performs human resources consulting assignments and projects. Robert can be reached at Rbackes@source2.com.

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MN Economic Outlook

The February Minnesota Business Conditions Index climbed to 52.1 from January’s 50.1.

Components of the index from the monthly survey of supply managers were new orders at 52.0, production or sales at 53.7, delivery lead time at 52.8, inventories at 52.3, and employment at 49.5. “Over the past 12 months, Minnesota has lost a slight 200, or 0.1 percent of its manufacturing jobs. Our surveys over the past several months indicate the manufacturing sector is now gaining jobs, but at a very slow pace. These slight gains will spill over into the broader state economy with moderate job gains for the overall state economy through the second quarter,” reported 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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