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Keeping New Jersey Manufacturers in the Running

Nov 2, 2018

NJ Manufacturers are vital to the economic success of our state and exciting changes are on the horizon. Many of our state’s manufacturers are facing challenges that may impact their ability to be locally profitable and globally competitive. However, help is on the way, from a host of NJ organizations dedicated to the success of our manufacturing sector.


Lisë Stewart: Hello, I'm Lisë Stewart from the Center for Family Business Excellence. And I'm so delighted today to be able to introduce you to my friend and colleague, John Kennedy. John is the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. And we're really delighted because we believe that manufacturing is extremely important not only to the country, but very important here in New Jersey. And the New Jersey MEP is doing some fantastic things, so really delighted you could come in today and talk to us a little bit about the program and what you do and some of the issues that are facing manufacturers here. Just to kick us off, many years ago, well, actually, just a number of years ago, the manufacturing extension partnership under the national institute of standards and technology, which is a mouthful, commissioned a study that showed that there were a number of challenges that US manufacturers are facing. We're really talking about small manufacturers here. And those were things such as access to a skilled workforce, access to capital, being able to understand the impacts of technologies such as advanced manufacturing, succession planning, etcetera. So, I'm just curious from your perspective, what are some of the challenges you're seeing that New Jersey manufacturers are facing?

John Kennedy: Well, it's all the same thing, Lisë, you know, I mean, being a former manufacturer, we have some of the same issues that have existed for many, many years. Talent is number one. Lack of talent. We've created a dearth of pathways for young people, and things have changed over the last couple of years. In the sense, that manufacturing is much more in the news, as you know, and the president has been pushing that as part of his agenda. That's all good, but reality is states have to get along with the two. In New Jersey, we're actually having some pretty good success with the last couple of years. We have a manufacturing caucus made up legislators, and that is something that never existed before. And we also built the policy team we'll be seeing later today, which is parts of the governor's office, the EDA, department of education. So at least we're back in the conversation and that's half of the battle. But, the basic problems, you know still exist because that those are basic business problems. You guys know it as well as I do.

LS: True, although I will say that in the National Manufacturing Extension Program, New Jersey has a great reputation because you're doing so many innovative things, and I think one of the things that we're all very curious about is, this whole workforce development and I know you've launched some programs around that. Can you tell us a little bit about workforce development, both in the state of New Jersey and the programs that you have?

JK: Well, we never abandoned. A lot of the centers went away from workforce development and that's by choice, it's a business choice. However, when we do our one question survey every year that says 'what's your biggest problem?', and they keep saying workforce development. As business people, you're thinking moves towards, we've got to solve that issue. So, we've never left workforce development, but we've evolved it. One of the things that we're doing is we've developed an entire apprenticeship program, and we've been working with the US DOL as well as the New Jersey DOL. And that has given us a different focus on things. We built a team around people. I think you know, one of them. Who was a product of the German system. And we've been able to create what we call this foundational learning that ties directly into the county college system and that has given us a leg up. I believe the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, he's the new governor here, believes in that because we've put aside ten million dollars to support apprenticeship programs and manufacturing is going to be one of those supported.

LS: That's fantastic.

JK:I think so, yeah. Very nice to have that sort of state support here. And that hasn't existed for a while. In our car conversations in the past, New Jersey walked away from MEP support during the downturn in the finances. And that's understandable. Look, everybody was in trouble. But, now, we're trying to work our way back there, what we're trying to do it with programs that have metrics, so that we're not just getting money for doing nothing. We're getting money for producing a product, and sometimes that product is a trained individual.

LS: You know, that also reminds me that the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program around the US is really one of the most effective public-private partnerships in the history of this country. And I don't think a lot of people realize what a significant return on the taxpayer dollars comes from this program. You're doing a lot to help manufacturers become more globally competitive to make sure they can grow, maintain value and so on. So tell me, in New Jersey, what do you think are the growth areas? What are you all seeing are some of the areas that are really taking off here, staying strong?

JK:Well, the interesting thing about New Jersey's manufacturing programs is that we're a supply chain state, for the most part. Obviously, bio pharma remains strong in New Jersey. There's over three thousand companies. But what we don't realize is that food is another eleven hundred companies. We have developed some food programs that are nationally looked at by NIST, which is great. But also, DOD. Because while we're not creating the plains or the other things, we are creating all the parts that go into it. So, it's a very huge aspect of what we're doing on the electronics, the metal, you know, the componentry that goes into it. So, it's kind of interesting in New Jersey because we reached such a broad group of capabilities. Which I think it's more fun than just focusing on one.  

LS: I can imagine and you all do a lot of very fun things, that are very interesting things, I'd really love our listeners to know a little bit about. What does the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or Program, do? What do you do with your clients? Your customers?

JK:Well, as an engineer, they're fun. For most people, probably kind of boring, but working with groups like yourself, we do a lot of consulting, we do a lot of strategic planning work because that's the basis to what happens. And we do a lot of training, not only training that's workforce development, but training that's in-plan type training for lien programs, ISO programs. They're critical to a company. Growth is so important to these companies, but if you can't find the money to reinvest, there is no room. So by saving them twenty-five percent, in process savings, that could be reinvested not only to your staffing, but into your new machines and things of that nature. New programs that help your company grow. So we look at it first, that we've got to solve the lower problems, lower on the hierarchy before you can start growing that company.

LS: And I know you've had a lot of success stories. I was actually reading through some of your materials for your hill day last year that and it was really nice to see. You're doing some fantastic things. A lot of your clients are some of your strongest advocates for the program and what you're trying to achieve.

JK:Well, I think that if you have a successful program that continues, I think that's a real positive. It's started beyond. I've only been here six years, so I'd like to take all the credit, but that's impossible. You know, we've been doing good work for a long time. Where we have changed somewhat is, the ideas from our CFO, Lynore DeSantis, and our COO, Rob Stramara. We're bringing new thoughts into what we're offering. Conversations that we've had in connection with your efforts, in our own strategic plan, by the way we're going through our strategic planning process every fall now since you taught us. We're using that to help devise new efforts and to help in new areas because things don't stay static. You know, I heard from some young lady today that podcasts and your phones and all they're all the rage, but I don't know if she's right or not.

LS: I suspect she might be. I should say at this juncture that here at EisnerAmper, we are great supporters of the manufacturing program. We think that what MEP is doing is so vital, and we looked for ways in which we can work together and support each other's efforts. And so this is really it's a nice partnership going forward. I'd really like to make sure that anybody listening has an understanding of two things; One, what do you really want them to know about the program, or about you or what you all are doing? And secondly, how do they find you? How does a manufacturer that's thinking, oh, this is really interesting. How might they get in touch with you?

JK:Through our website is the best way. Most anybody in the state nowadays, if you call up and say that you're a manufacturer, they'd rather that you deal with us than them. So that's a good thing. But the reality is, is that we try to take it just like anything else. You have to build a good foundation before you can build the rest of the house. And we do that through assessments. We go in and assess companies and work with them. We not only have a team of forty people that are dispersed around the state, but we also have seventy plus resources. And they're experts in their field and a lot of them give us good rates that they wouldn't charge otherwise because they know what we're trying to do. And that's really important to a small company. The average company in New Jersey is thirty-four people. Yes, we have large ones, but we also have a lot of small, family owned businesses, and that doesn't mean they're going to stay small if we can help them grow to the next level.

LS: It's true. We really are a nation of small businesses, and they have tremendous potential, but a lot of them really do need help. All that, expertise that's required is not always in house. So, a program like yours where you're going out and you're sourcing talent all over the state. And I think that's an important point to make, too- that you operate statewide, somebody can find you wherever they are, right?

JK:Very true, all of the MEPs are that way, which is great. But, also, being able to connect them with companies like yours. I mean, let's be realistic. We can't answer. Some of us are just engineers. We don't know the other aspects of this, but we're learning.

LS: Well as I said, I think it's a great partnership, and we're just so pleased to have you here and to hear all the good things that the program is doing. So I really want to encourage anybody that's out there. If you are a small manufacturer. In fact, if you are a growing manufacturer, then New Jersey MEP has a tremendous amount of resources, information and connections statewide, so I strongly encourage you to get in touch with them. Learn about the program and what's possible. And I really hope that we'll find more ways to be able to work together in the future.

JK:Sounds good. We're ready.

LS: Great, thanks, John. Thank you so much for coming in today. I really appreciate it.

JK: Thank you, Lisë.

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