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How Manufacturers Adapt to Changing Times

February 8, 2017

As a self-funded, starving college student, I spent the summer of my sophomore year working on the assembly line of an injection molding factory making Nerf footballs. Sounds like it should have been a fun job. It wasn’t.

Sweat pouring down my forehead due to the curing heaters throughout the factory floor combined with the humid New York weather forced me to use the salt tablets dispensed at the water fountain throughout the summer. It was a dirty, hot, and physically taxing job and as a result, I did not return the following summer.

Thankfully, much has changed in manufacturing over the last 30 years.

It’s a Shore Thing

It’s widely known that America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs to offshoring in the past few decades. But that’s changed. Rising labor, shipping, and fuel costs, along with a variety of logistical hurdles of housing foreign facilities, have made it more practical and cost effective for manufacturers to reshore.

Joe Max Higgins has pounced on this changing tide. He is an economic developer from Mississippi and is known as “the coach” since his conversations often involve football references. When he was initially offered the position to stimulate and develop the Golden Triangle in Mississippi, he accepted because he clearly saw that “these guys are losing when they should be winning.”

Higgins relishes this new opportunity and spends his time incentivizing companies to build manufacturing plants in Mississippi, promoting the Golden Triangle, and surveying the land for development. Joe worked with local government leaders, convincing them to invest in building roads, sewers, and power grids to lure and secure manufacturing companies to the area. Creating infrastructure is key to landing major deals—and Higgins goes after them aggressively.

“The only way we win any deal is to tear off everybody else’s face. We gotta kill everybody to win the deal.” 

His aggressive approach involves the evaluation of the competition, researching each company’s needs, and providing ready-to-build factory sites. His results have been stellar, winning the Golden Triangle a high-tech steel mill and several highly-pursued advanced manufacturing plants.

Advanced Manufacturing Technology Creates Value for Everyone

Higgins looks at the complete picture when fighting to win a deal. He realized that in order to compete, his customers also need advanced manufacturing technologies like robots, wearable technology, other automated tools, and software systems like cloud ERP to deliver the connectivity and plant floor control modern manufacturers require.

He also recognized the talent challenge that manufacturers face in attracting skilled labor to operate and maintain these technologies. Relying on his philosophy of “don’t take any plays off the table” in order to be prepared and strategic in every decision, Higgins recruited the local community college to provide specialized training to workers. As further incentive to companies, the workforce undergoes customized schooling tailored to meet each factory’s needs with the promise to start when the new plant is operational.

Second Equals Last

In a segment on Higgins, 60 Minutes shared the Golden Triangle’s unemployment rate dropped from 20 percent to 6 percent since 2003. The newly trained workforce has also experienced a significant raise in wages, reporting the current average annual salary for plant floor workers at $50,000, plus full benefits.

Higgins’ license plate broadcasts his belief that second place is last place, reading “2EQLAST.” And with his eye on many more advanced manufacturing projects for the Golden Triangle, he believes re-shoring may bring U.S. manufacturing back to its glory days.

“These plants, they pay well…the working conditions are very good, and those are the jobs that are in demand. If we can create those types of industries, those types of jobs, I think the sky’s still the limit for the United States.”

The Sky is Your Limit

Most manufacturing plants today are cleaner, cooler, safer, and pay better than  when I was making Nerf footballs to get through college. The changing economic times and technical advances require that manufacturers have the same aggressive eye as Higgins. All ‘plays’ should be evaluated and actions taken.

Do you have an outdated ERP system, disparate systems that can’t share data, or struggle to get an accurate view of how your business is running? If so, I recommend you take a page out of Higgins' playbook, investigate the value of moving your manufacturing ERP system to the cloud. In today’s competitive environment, you can’t afford a status quo attitude. Modernizing your manufacturing facility is good for your bottom line and for your employees.

Want to learn more about cloud ERP? Click here. To see how advanced manufacturing technology on the plant floor makes your business more competitive watch the Future of Manufacturing is Now video.

To view the 60 Minutes segment on Joe Max Higgins, click here.

About the Author

Laura Melchionne