November, 2016

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February 7th 2023 09:00 am
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February 8th 2023 08:00 am
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February 14th 2023 09:00 am
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February 21st 2023 08:00 am
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February 22nd 2023 09:00 am
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Article Index

Lean Leader - Dale Walker, Le Sueur Incorporated
Article by: Dale Walker

Dale Walker is Director, Continuous Improvement & Information Technology at Le Sueur Incorporated in Le Sueur, MN. He has been with the company for 10 years.

"Voice of the Customer" Defines Value
Article by: Brian Swanson

Think about it, do entrepreneurs really start out on their own and take risks involved in starting a business because they so desperately want to serve the needs of the customer? 

HR Insight - Amy Crews, Dynamic Group
Article by: Amy Crews

Amy Crews is Vice President of Human Resources at Dynamic Group with facilities in Ramsey and Coon Rapids, MN. She has been with the company for 2-1/2 years.

Are You Prepared for the Pay Data Battle?
Article by: Ann Bares

Today, any motivated employee can gain access to salary data which suggests that he or she is underpaid by many thousands of dollars.

Short Circuiting the Sales Process
Article by: Jim Thomas

Every salesperson I have met has a sales process - they might not know it, but they have it.

Drug Screening in the Manufacturing Environment
Article by: Christine Cunneen

Now is an important time for all companies to review their drug screening policies.

Ask the IP Attorney
Article by: Patterson Thuente IP

If you have a burning intellectual property question, you can ask it by visiting the Q&A web page or emailing Tye Biasco at

MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

The October Business Conditions Index for Minnesota increased to 48.7 from September’s 48.4.

Lean Leader - Dale Walker, Le Sueur Incorporated

Dale Walker is Director, Continuous Improvement & Information Technology at Le Sueur Incorporated in Le Sueur, MN. He has been with the company for 10 years.

Le Sueur Incorporated (LSI) is an independent, total service custom producer of molded products in aluminum and plastic. The company was established in 1946 and we recently celebrated our 70th year in business. We are on a 12-acre campus and have over 274,000 square feet of production space. We have over 400 employees and are ISO certified.

Where did you receive your Lean training/experience?
About 20 years ago when I was with another company, we transitioned from a departmentally segregated shop floor with batch production to a cellular model with flow. This introduced me to a number of Lean tools, but we did little to create a Lean culture. Many companies didn’t even fully appreciate how culture was the main determinant of Lean success and continued to manage the factories with dated metrics such as machine utilization, direct labor efficiency, and standard cost variance analysis. Employee empowerment, servant leadership, and voice of the customer were rarely heard terms.

Our Lean journey at LSI has more to do with a cultural journey than simply the introduction of Lean tools. Don’t get me wrong; I facilitate a lot of internal workshops teaching Lean tools/principles and coach employees on various teams, but the heavy lifting is most certainly on the cultural transformation side of the equation. I am committed to being a life-long learner and am always reading a book on some aspect of change management or Lean. I also earned the Lean Leader Certification through the Manufacturers Alliance a number of years ago.

Since starting our journey at Le Sueur, we have used a number of Lean consultants. Some were more effective than others, but I made it a personal objective to learn something from every one of them. I believe that the best consultant not only helps you achieve something you are not quite ready to do alone, but also works him/herself out of a job by transferring the knowledge to the client as quickly as possible. As a result, I now facilitate the CI teams at LSI and conduct our internal training workshops and we use consultants on a limited basis. For example; we used a consultant to develop and implement the Small Improvement Process and the Departmental Improvement Huddle Process. Both of these initiatives have been very successful and the consultant is still here training and expanding upon the huddle process. Most department supervisors are using the huddle meetings to identify and discuss small improvement ideas, and we just surpassed the 10,000th small improvement completed since it began in 2012! This is a testament to the strong support from employees who participate and from the leadership team at all levels (especially from the manufacturing leadership, since most of the small improvements come from that area).

How, when, and why did you get introduced to Lean and what fuels the passion for Continuous Improvement?
In 1982, I was a software developer writing manufacturing software. I was trying to bridge the gap between the need for a back-end MRP planning system and a more visual/real time execution system for the shop floor. Reading Richard Schonberger’s book, Japanese Manufacturing Techniques, immediately resonated with me and I began to “drink the Lean Kool aid.” At that time it wasn’t called Lean. It was called JIT, and the principles of visual management, flow, line balancing, identifying and removing waste, and quality at the source were central to the JIT practitioner’s skill-set at the time.

As I continue to study and learn more about Lean, the more I realize just how little I know and this fascinates me. Everything can be improved forever (including ourselves). That very fact is what fuels my passion to continue my personal Lean journey and to continue learning.

What are your current Lean oriented activities?
LSI began its Lean journey from a position of strength and we really did not have a burning platform. We actually began our Lean journey as a central part of a growth strategy. Having no burning platform and enjoying 70 years of prosperity is a great strength for an organization, but can provide a pretty challenging environment for making significant change.

During the first few years of our Journey we used large, formal teams to accomplish many of our objectives. The teams provided a safe, culturally neutral place to challenge the status quo and to draw individuals out so that they could be part of the solution. Historically, many employees didn’t always have a way to voice opinions and offer solutions. Our culture has grown and matured since that time, and we no longer need to form large teams for improvements, as many employees now look for ways to help make this a better company every day. We still use teams for efforts when the deliverable is complex, crosses departmental boundaries, or requires significant time and/or cost. When teams are used, I encourage employees to step up to a team leader role so they can strengthen their leadership and project management skills at the same time. I facilitate the activities of the teams and provide any needed coaching to help the team leader be successful.

We also offer regularly scheduled internal workshops for all employees on the Fundamentals of 5S, and on Lean manufacturing concepts. These workshops consist of some instructional training, but the attendees spend the majority of the time applying the concepts in a hands-on applied-learning workshop environment.

What were the lessons learned in leading or training your team on a Lean project?
I taught at a University a number of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. What I have discovered recently is that teaching Lean tools is the easy part. Positioning your CI services in a way that is helpful and is willingly accepted is the hard part. If CI help isn’t willingly accepted, any gains made will likely be short-lived because individuals can go through the motions of participating without being fully invested.

There are a number of reasons why help isn’t always accepted. One of the more significant ones is described by Bruce Hamilton, President of GBMP, as a “Conceptual Blind Spot.” This is the idea that individuals that aren’t intimate with your exact process can actually help improve that process. Experienced Lean practitioners know they can help improve any process through effective team facilitation to draw out the best ideas from others (regardless of title, department, or length of service), openly challenge the status quo, help guide differences of opinion towards common agreement, coach practical problem solving techniques (A3), and by helping others learn how to identify and eliminate waste in any given process, etc.

I approach my CI role far differently now than I did early on. Much of my personal growth in this area has come from studying the work of Edgar Schein. The books that made the most significant impact on me are: Humble Inquiry, and Helping; How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help. I am now reading Humble Consulting and it is excellent. I consider Schein to be the godfather of organizational change and organizational cultural development and I really enjoy his work.

Schein argues that the need to feel always in control prevents individuals from seeking or welcoming help. Schein also suggests that good teamwork is nothing more than reciprocal help where everyone benefits. In order for help to be truly useful it needs to be offered in a way that doesn’t suggest superiority or blame. I think that my relentless pursuit of continuous improvement may have been interpreted by some as a suggestion that what we were doing all these years was “wrong.” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth and Schein’s work helped me to shine light on this issue and change my approach.

Let’s be serious; if LSI had been doing things “wrong” all along, do you really think that we would still be here some 70 years later? My current focus is to continually stress the need to make good systems a little bit better every day. This steers clear of anyone jumping to the erroneous conclusion that I am suggesting we have been doing something wrong. Although we have certainly been improving all along; what we are trying to do now is to improve more purposefully, at a more rapid pace using a new skill-set (Lean), and by engaging others to leverage the valuable knowledge of our experienced workforce.

When we work together as peers in a blameless environment, LSI employees have challenged and improved many processes that have been problematic for decades. Getting involved in and supporting this type of team-based CI comes easier for some than others, but in the final analysis everyone can see the beneficial results.   

What are the next steps in the Lean journey for your company?
We have been working with what I call “paper kaizens” to redesign support processes. To date we have redesigned processes for: Scheduling, Product Launch, Sampling, Customer Fit, Job Fit, Quoting, Tooling Management Policy, and are now forming a team to redesign our Non-Conforming Material Reporting process.

I feel that too often companies tend to use Lean tools to hammer exclusively on the direct labor operations. While there are gains to be found there; there are even greater gains to be had by streamlining support functions, so that they can put the manufacturing team in a position to be successful. If you have ever released a job with an error in the bill of materials or routing, released a job that was already late when it hit the floor, changed job priorities after giving the shop the priority dispatch list, released a job for a new product that may not be fully “production ready”, or released a job with material shortages, then you may benefit from redesigning your support processes.

To complete the paper kaizen, we form cross-functional teams and create swim lane maps to document the current state, identify any problematic areas that should be improved, brainstorm potential solutions, and finally create a future state swim lane map. We hold a report-out meeting for a large group of leaders throughout the company to explain what we learned, the main issues the team wants to overcome, and secure their approval to continue with implementation. At that time we form an implementation team to make the future state process become a reality.

These initial paper kaizen redesign projects are normally 3-5 consecutive days, often include intense concentration and ongoing debate, and can be extremely mentally draining (especially for the poor facilitator!) but at conclusion, participants have said that they would do it again. It may have been the first time some participants have had an opportunity to openly challenge the status quo and to work with individuals in other departments to create a joint solution better than any one of them could have developed on their own. The sense of teamwork built during a paper kaizen project spills over into working relationships long after the redesign project completes. It also cements trust between participants because they approach common issues as peers, truly listen to each other’s points of view, and jointly formulate solutions. In my opinion, this type of teamwork is the real magic sauce for further business success. The better we get at working together respectfully to solve common problems, the stronger we will grow as an organization.

How would you describe peer-to-peer education & training to your colleagues?
It seems many people think their companies are so “unique” that there isn’t much to glean from sharing ideas with individuals from other companies that may be in different industries. I believe that we are unique in the sense that we may produce different goods and services, and serve different markets than other companies, but we all have the same challenges making change within our organizations. The peer-to-peer experience that I have had with the Manufacturers Alliance Lean Enterprise Peer Group has been very rewarding because it helps me to see firsthand how others have approached change management. It has been a great benefit to me personally and I encourage others to take advantage of this opportunity.

Dale is Director of Continuous Improvement and Information Technology at Le Sueur Incorporated in Le Sueur, MN. He can be reached at

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"Voice of the Customer" Defines Value

Think about it, do entrepreneurs really start out on their own and take risks involved in starting a business because they so desperately want to serve the needs of the customer? 

Businesses are started because people are looking for the opportunity to build something that endures, to have some control of their destiny, to create a better working environment, to be personally fulfilled; to (you fill in the blank). The truth is that the list of reasons is nearly endless and rarely includes a burning desire to serve the customer.

It’s ironic that we focus so intently on the customer when we define value while neglecting the fundamental reasons that companies are started. In addition, we are often frustrated and confused when we struggle to gain buy-in and support for our strategies when we bring Voice of the Customer results back to the organization.

How much better would the results be if we first took the time to learn all we can about the needs, desires, and dreams of the people that show up each day to make our companies work? How much better would our results be if we kept the focus on what really matters to our staff? 

This excerpt is from the Manufacturers Alliance's educational blog. This member benefit follows suit with our mission by focusing on sharing the best practices and lessons learned from experienced manufacturing peers to help members continuously improve. Thus, we are featuring peer-authors sharing their first-hand experiences. To read more of Brian's insights, visit our educational blog.

Brian is a partner and Director of Enterprise Excellence at NACS, Inc. in Ham Lake. In addition, he is the founder and Chairman of the Board for HOPE 4 Youth, an organization serving homeless youth in the Anoka County area. Brian can be reached at

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HR Insight - Amy Crews, Dynamic Group

Amy Crews is Vice President of Human Resources at Dynamic Group with facilities in Ramsey and Coon Rapids, MN. She has been with the company for 2-1/2 years.

Dynamic Group is a premier plastic injection molding and mold building company with two locations in the Northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. We provide medical molded parts in our Ramsey location where production runs on three shifts throughout the week. We are also recognized as a leader in complex, precision injection molds for a variety of industries in our Coon Rapids location.

Where did you receive your HR training/experience?
Early in my working career, I was instrumental in starting an HR department for a fast growing telecommunications company. The company had upwards of 35 offices throughout the US with an average of 500 employees. They did not have any HR representation during their startup phase and I found myself as the logical point of contact as their Payroll Administrator. I quickly became an expert in employment law both in federal and at least a dozen states, including California!

How and when were you introduced to HR and what fuels your passion for the profession?
I always thought I would be an accountant as it was my favorite class in High School, but with my personality, I needed to be around people and support them in some way. I quickly learned that HR was my niche and find it hard to turn off regardless of where I was in life. Even friends and acquaintances outside of work that are looking for employment or have issues arise in their workplace will call me for advice. I enjoy helping if I’m able.

The telecommunications company where I worked for 13 years before it was sold was one that supported education and I took full advantage of what they offered. I started attending EEO law classes and became involved in all aspects of HR. Around year 2000 I set a goal to self-study and pass the SPHR certification program. Additionally, I joined HR Connection, became a member of SHRM, and attended many HR training programs along the way. To this day I participate in an HR Roundtable and find it very valuable.

What are your company’s current HR-oriented activities?
Last year we had a huge initiative to meet the 1095-c requirement and implemented a new HRIS. This year, we have two additional major initiatives. First, using the 9-box process, our leadership team will identify high potential talent and create succession plans for key roles. Like many companies, we have informal succession planning, which basically means that management observes and promotes good performers. Our formal plan will be to partner with those who are identified for key positions, prepare a plan and set definitive goals for training.

Second initiative for 2017, will be to build our Dynamic University. We have spent many hours developing our onboarding strategy to include orientation and training plans, and we aim to follow this up with a program to introduce our values, skills training, leadership training, etc., based on position.

What was one major lesson learned in the past year that you feel others could benefit from reading?
We created an electronic, bi-directional performance improvement process that was too complex. We know that obtaining employee feedback is important, but keep it simple! Dynamic Group has always been diligent in conducting performance reviews annually and the process entailed the supervisors/managers completing a performance appraisal on each of their employees. The employee on the other hand, completed a separate document that was more survey-like. This past year we asked each employee to provide their own feedback about their skills, talents and goals. It was a change for the organization but was carried out by management and employees alike successfully. Next year we will shorten the categories and give more time for everyone to complete.

What are the next steps planned for improving your company HR processes?
We have streamlined many of our HR processes to ensure a flow of electronic notifications. One example is that when we onboard a new hire, we set up an automatic 90 day review notification to the employee and their manager that will arrive in their email five days prior to their 90 days.

Our next steps are to program our internal ERP software to send electronic notifications for other OSHA training requirements such as Safety, Forklift and Bioburden to ensure timeliness. We are also working to set up processes to certify and re-certify operators on the production floor when training documents are new or have revisions. This initiative will be shared by HR, Finance, Quality and Production and will take many months to complete.

How would you describe peer-to-peer education to a colleague in manufacturing?
In our environment, many employees bring different skills and “finesse” to a position. We could talk endlessly about some of the great skills our employees bring to our company. However, I believe our largest impact of peer-to-peer education is through our Apprenticeship Program. We have four apprentices who have either recently graduated from Machine Tool Technology Programs or are still finishing their education. Our program guides each employee through our CNC, EDM, and Mold Building areas over a 24-month period. Along the journey, these students are able to learn from experienced professionals and are developed into well-rounded and knowledgeable employees. Conversely, some of our apprentices bring new techniques they’ve learned in school and teach our tenured staff.

The success of this program can be attributed to our experienced employees who have patience and the willingness to mentor these individuals.

Amy is Vice President of Human Resources at Dynamic Group in Ramsey and Coon Rapids, MN. She can be reached at

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Are You Prepared for the Pay Data Battle?

Today, any motivated employee can gain access to salary data which suggests that he or she is underpaid by many thousands of dollars.

One of the challenges that managers and Human Resources departments face is the employee at their door waiting, Internet pay survey printout in hand, to discuss their compensation.

What’s the best way to handle these conversations? I believe the best defense is a good offense. I believe that the best approach is meeting this challenge head on by focusing on pay data quality and establishing a policy that features specific quality criteria that all pay data must meet (whether it comes from Human Resources or an employee). Armed with a formal policy on pay data quality, the manager or Human Resources professional is positioned to have a productive discussion about the specific data an employee brings in.

Setting Quality Standards
Let's face it. Data of questionable quality exists both on the Internet and in traditional hard-copy form from publishers who should know better. The good news, though, is that the same quality standards should apply regardless of the source of the pay information. Here are some of the standards I recommend for assessing pay survey quality, presented for your consideration in developing your own policy.

Survey details its methodology. The survey data provider should detail its process for contacting or soliciting participants, collecting and analyzing data, and checking data quality and validity. A lack of transparency around survey process and method only makes me wonder what they are trying to hide.

Survey data is collected from an independent, verifiable source. I would consider the Human Resources, Finance or Payroll departments of an employer to be independent, verifiable sources of pay data. Surveys based on data submitted by recruiting firms or self-reported by individual employees (both of which stand to gain by inflating pay rates) are not considered reliable by most compensation professionals.

Survey identifies participants. If not a list naming participating organizations, there should at least be a demographic profile which outlines information like their number, size, location, industry and other characteristics. If you don't know where and from whom the data is drawn, how can you determine whether it truly represents your company's labor market? 

Survey provides job descriptions adequate for matching. Proper job matching is the foundation for successful market pricing. Matching by job title alone is fraught with peril given the wide variances in titling practices that exist among different companies. Survey job descriptions should include education and experience specifications, as well as an overview of typical responsibilities.

Survey reveals effective date of data. It is important to know how current the data is so that its validity can be ascertained. Given the turbulence in today's labor market, data that is too old -- regardless of whether or not an aging factor has been applied to bring it forward -- may no longer reflect the realities of a particular job's competitive value.

Survey reports sample sizes. How many organizations and employees are represented in a particular piece of data? Obviously, data based on 200 employees is more meaningful than data based on 5 employees. Without this information it is impossible to determine whether a markedly high or low pay figure is valid, or simply the skewed result of a small sample size.

With formal pay data quality policy in hand, my advice when approached by an employee with their own competitive pay information is as follows:

1. Thank them for their efforts in bringing the data forward. (Yes, really. If it turns out that the data is valid, they may be doing you a favor. Just keep your mind open to the possibility, however slim.)

2.  Explain (and provide a hard copy of) the organization's policy on pay survey data and quality criteria.

3.  Sit down with the employee and review their information together to ascertain whether it meets the organization's criteria.

To the extent that the employee's information meets the quality criteria (and it represents a valid match for his/her job), it ought to be taken seriously and considered in light of current pay practices for the position and the particular employee. To the extent that it does not, the occasion should provide a teaching moment for the employee.

For this approach to work, of course, it is important that the company itself sets compensation policy and practice based on survey sources that meet the quality criteria. This not only puts you in a strong position to discuss and defend your pay programs and decisions, but helps build employee trust in your commitment to basing pay decisions on objective and impartial data that can stand up to a quality test.

Ann is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group, LLC. She has extensive experience consulting in the areas of compensation and performance management. She can be reached at

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Short Circuiting the Sales Process

Every salesperson I have met has a sales process - they might not know it, but they have it.

They do realize that their most precious asset is time and want to win business, build relationships and solve customer problems as productively as possible.

Two weeks ago, I moderated a sales panel for the Manufacturers Alliance. One of the speakers discussed sales process, training and outcomes. His focus was on productivity. After the presentation, one of the audience approached me and asked if there was a way to “short circuit” the sales process. I replied that the basics of the sales process are similar in most B2B industrial sales-it’s how they are applied that are different. 

The six basic steps are: 1. Initial meeting preparation, 2. Client needs assessment, 3. Product/service demonstration, 4. Proposal, 5. Close, 6. Post sales follow up.
Prospects and existing accounts will merit varying levels of investment time and effort at each step. Shortening steps of the basic process may come at a cost which is replacing the customer’s priorities with your company priorities.

I get it. It’s the 4th quarter and you’re looking to make an impact on the year-end. You are shortchanging the relationship-building part of the sales process and will make it up 1Q 20NEXT. Accelerating the process means more committed sales preparation on your part and hustling your organization to keep up with you (and most companies do not perform well at light speed). Here’s some suggestions you might want to try:

  1. Skip your well-tailored presentation and your talking points. Spend time developing more poignant questions and study your customer’s application so that you’ll be able to respond to answers without having to call HQ or seek assistance. Get to the heart of the problem. Expose the need that will drive the purchase decision. Memorize your questions and put them in an order. Listen intently to the responses and take good notes.
  2. Ask tough questions early to qualify the account. You may not have built a high enough “trust level” to earn a response so, if they push back, don’t push forward.
    1. What’s your decision timeline?
    2. How much $ have you budgeted for this project?
    3. How have you made decisions like this in the past?
    4. Do we have all the stakeholders present to make a decision?
    5. What’s the outcome you’re looking to achieve?
    6. What’s the $ impact - revenue gain/expense reduction - of making a decision?
    7. Follow-up fast. During each phase of the six steps, the faster you follow up the greater your potential of winning the sale, and in step 6, getting the second sale.
    8. Skip the formality of needing to be face-to-face. Find out how they like to communicate and make decisions. Customers appreciate if a phone, Go to Meeting or Skype call can be conducted. It’s less intrusive and more courteous. This works especially works well when you have already built a strong relationship. It also works well when the decision will be purely price driven.
    9. Take the small order if that moves you forward. It gets your product in the door, allows them to see your company’s performance and gains credibility for you when you want to springboard to the next opportunity.

Remember, the customer does the decision making. You move when they want you to move. It’s like dancing with a grizzly bear. Know the speed they want to move and move accordingly. Both the customer and the bear appreciates it.

A previous blog, dealt with making your sales calls relevant. It may be good time for a review. 

Good selling!

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 or

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Drug Screening in the Manufacturing Environment

Now is an important time for all companies to review their drug screening policies.

With new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules and the “greening” of America through legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana in many states, companies are advised to review their drug screening procedures and update their policies.

Beginning December 1st, employers will need to abide by OSHA’s new final rule on reporting workplace accident or injury (29 CFR 1904.35). The rule clarifies the existing implicit requirement that an employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries must be “reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting.”

OSHA believes that blanket post-injury drug testing (automatic drug testing after every incident or injury) does not promote proper accident reporting and may be considered a form of adverse action that intimidates workers. OSHA believes this could lead to workers’ reluctance to report injuries. Thus, this final rule requires employers to have a legitimate business reason for requiring a drug test, such as a reasonable belief that drug use may have contributed to the injury.

To comply with the OSHA rule, drug testing policies should limit post-incident testing to situations in which employee drug use is likely to have caused or contributed to the incident, and for which a drug test could accurately identify impairment caused by drug use.  

The OSHA rule does not prohibit drug testing of employees, including drug testing pursuant to the Department of Transportation rules or any other federal or state law. It only prohibits employers from using drug testing to retaliate against a person who reports an injury or illness.

Employers should review their drug testing policies regarding workplace accidents, to ensure compliance with the OSHA rule. Penalties can be upwards of $10,000, or over $100,000 for willful violations.

Without a doubt, there is work involved to keep your drug testing policy and procedures in step with current laws, but there is also plenty of evidence available that points to why it’s worth it. In the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) publication “Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” it was reported that were an estimated 27 million illicit drug users in 2014. Twenty-two percent of the survey respondents aged 18-25 and 8.3% of those over 26 years of age admitted to using illicit drugs during the previous month. Of the respondents 18 years of age and older, 10.6% of those with full time employment and 13.2% with part time employment reported to using illicit drugs in the previous month. Additionally, according to the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI), the positivity rate for nearly 6.6 million urine drug tests increased overall by 9.3% from 2013 to 2014. In Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana use was legalized in 2012, positivity rates for marijuana between 2012 and 2013 increased 20% and 23% respectively. In 2014, urine test positivity rose by 9.1% for cocaine, 7.2% for amphetamines, and 21.4% for methamphetamines. In oral fluid tests, the methamphetamine positivity rate rose 37.5%. It is clear that, without drug testing, your business can be at risk. In fact, the US Department of Labor has reported statistics about drug users and the toll they can have on the workplace. Your employees who use drugs are:

  • 2.2 times more likely to request early dismissal or time off
  • 3 times more likely to be late for work
  • 2.5 times more likely to be absent for 8 or more days each year
  • 3.6 times more likely to be involved in an accident at work
  • 5 times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim

When considering the risk drug usage may pose to workplace safety, business reputation, and your bottom line, the effort involved with periodically reviewing your drug testing procedures and policies is worthwhile. Hire Image recommends reviewing your drug screening program to ensure you are using the latest testing available, such as additional drug panels for synthetic drugs or testing to provide results on more recent drug use. An employment attorney with expertise in drug testing is also recommended to review drug-free work policies and ensure your program meets or exceeds the requirements of the industry, as well as the jurisdictional laws that govern your business practices.

Christine is CEO at Hire Image LLC, a nationwide background screening, drug testing and verification services company. Visit their website at

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Ask the IP Attorney

If you have a burning intellectual property question, you can ask it by visiting the Q&A web page or emailing Tye Biasco at

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

Q: If I choose to keep an invention as a trade secret instead of patenting it, what level of secrecy is required?
A: The standard in most state and federal courts is whether your company took “reasonable precautions” to prevent dissemination of the invention outside of individuals subject to confidentiality restrictions (e.g., nondisclosure agreement). Of course, that raises the question, what is “reasonable”?

The reasonableness of the protection of your trade secret depends on several factors. Courts look to the size of your business, both in terms of number of employees and revenue. Larger companies usually require more precautions than a small mom-and-pop business. Likewise, a company that has annual sales in the billions of dollars will also be expected to be more diligent than a local coffee shop. The reasonableness of protection also depends on what the trade secret is. If the trade secret is merely a customer list, that is not typically seen as valuable as ground-breaking software code.

At a minimum, reasonable precautions include:

  • Restricting access to the trade secret (i.e., locked in safe, password protected).
  • Limiting employees that know trade secret only to those that need to know.
  • Having employees with access to trade secret sign confidentiality agreement.
  • Clearly mark any written documents related to the trade secret as CONFIDENTIAL or PROPRIETARY.
  • Providing access to discrete parts of the trade secret based on employee function.
  • Restricting or prohibiting duplication of copies.
  • Prohibiting documents or technology from leaving premises.
  • Third-party confidentiality agreements for any outside vendors or service providers exposed to the trade secret.

More formal precautions can include ID badges, entrance/exit interviews of employees, password protections, restricted physical access, and limitations on use of technology (computers, cell phones, etc.).

While what constitutes reasonable precautions varies based on the specific circumstances of the trade secret, there is no requirement for absolute secrecy because that could unjustifiably hinder the operation of your business. Your intellectual property attorney should be consulted to identify the measures necessary for your specific business and trade secret.

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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MN Economic Outlook

The October Business Conditions Index for Minnesota increased to 48.7 from September’s 48.4.

Components of the overall October index from the monthly survey of supply managers were new orders at 40.4, production or sales at 38.1, delivery lead time at 62.3, inventories at 44.8, and employment at 57.8. "Durable goods manufacturers in the state, such as metal producers and machinery manufacturers, recorded losses for the month. This activity more than offset gains for nondurable goods producers such as food processors," said Goss. Percent of job changes over 12 months; Manufacturing, -0.2%; All nonfarm, +1.6%.

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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