Legislative brunch highlights manufacturing

Years working for General Motors and the Ford Motor Company gave Gary Convis the blueprint to rescue an ailing GM manufacturing plant in Freemont, California. It also provided Japanese-based Toyota its first North American facility in the U.S.

New United Manufacturing, Inc. (NUUMI) restored nearly 5,000 manufacturing jobs in the mid-80s and gave GM a front row seat to the “Toyota Way,” a management and manufacturing approach that offered streamlined processes where employees had the freedom to “stop the line” and management was committed to continuous employment for its workforce.

Convis keynoted the spring legislative brunch held at Delaware Tech’s Del-One Conference Center and hosted by Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Manufacturing Association. The conference, called “The Future Is Now: Reinventing Manufacturing in Delaware,” drew Delaware’s legislative officials and industry leaders.

Kurt Foreman, newly hired CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP), made one of his first public appearances since moving here from Oklahoma.

“It doesn’t take a great leader, it takes hundreds of people thinking and using their talents to do their best very day. That’s what it takes to be a successful company,” said Convis, now a senior advisor at Bloom Energy and a senior executive in the Toyota company.

Convis drew on his experiences at the car-manufacturing giant to address key leadership strategies in manufacturing.

“It’s the ability of leadership to create an environment where it’s safe and mandatory to stop production if there’s a problem,” said Convis, who added that executives can be blinded by the bottom and line and time constraints rather than quality. “It’s more important to build perfect quality.”

The legislative brunch highlighted Delaware’s commitment to energizing its manufacturing base through educational programs like Delaware Pathways and legislative initiatives, including modernization of the Coastal Zone Act.

James DeChene, senior vice president of government relations at the DSCC, summarized some of the challenges and growth points since last year’s legislative brunch, including:

· A $350M state budget shortfall in 2017 followed by passage of a $4.1B budget

· A “boom/bust” cycle predicted by the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory, including a $101M increase for 2018

· Modernizations to the Coastal Zone Act passed by the General Assembly

· A strategic plan by the Delaware Manufacturing Association to be a stronger voice in manufacturing

Gov. John Carney also provided a keynote at the event. He said the quality of the workforce and high health care costs continue to be among Delaware manufacturing industry’s greatest challenges.

“What we’re starting to develop is benchmark process for the health care costs that employers are experiencing today and systematically trying to push those down,” said Carney, who credited relationships with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, bipartisan leadership, and creation of the public/private Delaware Prosperity Partnership to face challenges, including national competition for manufacturing and a tax and regulatory environment.

“Having a good job that pays well to support their families – that most important thing. This sector has provided those employment opportunities for generations,” Carney said.

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