Manufacturers unite

Region’s manufacturing executives network and share ideas at new forum

There are likely more manufacturers in Southwest Washington than many would think, but there are few ways for executives of these companies to network and educate each other.

Steve Rosvold, principal of consulting firm KRM Business Solutions, saw a need to create a forum for manufacturers to organize informally.

"There was not an organization committed to education and meeting peers in a comfortable setting," said Rosvold.

Rosvold established the Southwest Washington Executive Manufacturer’s Forum in May 2005. The group meets every two months. Each meeting lasts two to three hours and includes a presentation on a pre-determined topic chosen by the group. The cost of each meeting is $65 and is targeted at executive-level manufacturers.

Rosvold emphasizes the opportunity for local executives to meet and learn from each other with minimal time and money invested.

Tom Simon, president of Vancouver-based KASO Plastics, is one of the 23 executives from 17 local manufacturers that have participated in the forums. He enjoys networking with people who have similar issues going on with their business.

"It’s educational in that you are able to see different sides of what people are dealing with," he said.

Even Simon was surprised to learn of all the manufacturers in Southwest Washington, and the forum allowed him to put faces to the names he has known about.

Carol Keljo, president of Security Signs, said she attended the forum to learn about local companies and what they do, especially since there are few other ways to do so, she said.

Even though the companies may appear very different, Bill Byrd, president of Vancouver’s Pacific Die Casting, said Southwest Washington manufacturers face many of the same issues. And two heads are better than one, he noted.

"Our problems are pretty similar, but we all attack them in a different way," said Byrd. "There is a confidence in knowing there are others out there with the same problems; (there is) safety in numbers."

Byrd also welcomes the opportunity to get out of the office.

"When you are a small business, you just get bogged down with what you are doing and don’t stretch your mind," said Byrd.

Topics have included creating a business assessment model, lean manufacturing, strategic planning and controlling employee benefit costs. The presentations typically include local experts on the subject. In November, Tim Leatherman, founder of Portland-based Leatherman Tool Group, spoke about the successful history of the company and presented the company’s recent strategic plan.

Participants vote on the topics they would like to hear discussed. Some topics they said they would like to see are attracting and retaining a good workforce, healthcare, rising material costs and competing with offshore competition.

Later this month, the group will discuss how to battle rising energy costs.

Manufacturers and businesses of all kinds across the country face these same issues, but there are more localized problems manufacturers would like to see addressed, such as transportation and the availability of land.

Security Signs is based in Portland and operates a location in Camas. Keljo said the company considered relocating the company’s headquarters to Clark County but land or facilities for their specifications were not available.

On the upside, Keljo said Southwest Washington has a favorable tax structure and good quality of life, which make it an attractive place for manufacturers to locate.

Simon agrees that Washington provides advantages over Portland and sees the area’s population growth as an advantage for manufacturers, particularly when it comes to building a solid workforce. According to figures provided by Washington’s Employment Security Department for November 2005, manufacturing jobs accounted for more than 10 percent of employed workers in Clark County, essentially even with the previous year.

Rosvold and the forum’s participants hope their meeting help facilitate further success in the market.

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