March 4, 2012

Maine Voices: State's manufacturers hold an ace

By SCOTT D. HOWARD

20110615_Cianbro
click image to enlarge

Mining modules such as this one shown under construction by Cianbro are an example of the world-class products made by Maine employees.

2011 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

It is unfortunate that the most recent publicity concerning Maine manufacturing has been about the trials and tribulations of the Kestrel Aircraft Co. at Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

First, Kestrel is a startup company that has not yet benefited from actually manufacturing in Maine.

Second, Kestrel was focused primarily on securing financial incentive packages from the federal, state and local governments, as well as from the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the development overseer for Brunswick Landing.

Kestrel's decision to move its composite manufacturing from Brunswick Landing to Wisconsin fails to recognize the many employee attributes that enable Maine manufacturers to compete at a world-class level.

MAINE EMPLOYEES ARE THE BEST

I have had the privilege and honor of working with and leading Maine employees in a number of Maine home-grown companies, including Central Maine Power and L.L. Bean. I managed manufacturing and product sourcing operations globally.

Companies from around the world travel to Maine to benchmark companies such as L.L. Bean. If there was one silver bullet that could help eliminate some of their issues, that most often differentiated Maine companies from these other companies, it was the Maine employee. Yet those companies could not replicate what we have in Maine.

Maine employees have an unparalleled work ethic, are very productive, are extremely loyal and have a "Yankee ingenuity" that raises their education and training skills to an even higher level.

These Maine employee attributes are a major reason Maine manufacturers are world-class.

TOP QUALITY AT REASONABLE COST

The first key to competing in the global economy today, especially in manufacturing, is to produce the highest quality at a reasonable cost. It is not to simply produce at the lowest cost.

Maine manufacturers like the Hinckley Company (composite yachts), Cianbro (refinery and mining modules), Mid-State Machine (precision machining), L.L. Bean, Fairchild Semiconductor and many others compete successfully because their highly skilled Maine employees produce world-class quality products.

These companies have some of the lowest employee turnover rates and the best safety records in their respective industries. As a result, these companies have the highest trained, the highest skilled employees anywhere.

STATE'S MANUFACTURERS INNOVATE

The second key for manufacturers to compete in the global economy is to continuously innovate. This involves constant change in the manufacturing processes, in the manufacturing equipment and the product being manufactured.

Maine manufacturers like Maine Tool & Machine, located at Brunswick Landing, are hiring and training employees, supervisors and managers who have a passion as well as the skill to continuously innovate.

International and local companies use Maine Tool & Machine to build prototype and custom products for the medical, energy, aerospace and military sectors. Maine employees at companies like Bath Iron Works, Texas Instruments and Harbor Technologies produce new, leading edge, technologically advanced processes and products every day.

A MAINE MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

We wish Kestrel Aircraft success with its composite manufacturing in Wisconsin, but also wish it had looked more carefully at what Maine employers have found to be a major key to their success -- Maine employees.

And we can take solace in the fact that a 100-year-old successful Maine company, L.L. Bean, moved the manufacturing of its rubber bottoms for the Maine hunting shoe and related products from La Crosse, Wis., to Lewiston, Maine. 

Scott D. Howard is a managing partner at Harpswell Partners, LLC, a strategic management consulting and investment advisory firm.

 

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