Inside Insights

The Weekly Report – November 20, 2023
Manufacturing executives on Enterprise Minnesota’s 10 regional peer councils have access to the best advisors around – each other.

There’s probably never been a more valuable time for manufacturing leaders to look to one another for advice. Our peer councils have the ideal arena to discuss these trends and learn from each other as they approach some of the issues raised by our latest State of Manufacturing® survey.

The survey showed deep concern about new and sweeping legislative changes that manufacturers need to deal with immediately. Changes in state employment laws, including expanded paid leave, an employer-funded paid leave program, and cannabis legalization, have 76% of respondents worried.

Respondents also indicated the dominant challenges of recent years have settled down a bit, creating new opportunities. With runaway inflation, acute worker shortages and supply chain shocks receding, now is a good time to develop and implement longer-term business strategies, from automation and ISO certification to formal strategic planning and market development.

For 23 years, Enterprise Minnesota has provided a platform for manufacturing leaders to connect and learn from each other about issues just like these. In monthly peer council meetings, exclusive to executives from small- and medium-sized manufacturers, members enjoy a structured forum to speak candidly and confidentially with their peers, and the connections and insight they yield are unmatched.

In the latest issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine®, writer Peter Passi shows readers exactly how valuable these connections can be, highlighting the experience of two executives from the Hibbing regional peer council. Todd Witherill, director of operations for Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) and Jason Wobbema, founder of Advanced Machine Guarding Solutions (AMGS), come from different aspects of manufacturing, which has proved beneficial to both their companies.

PROduction Workforce Professionals are a contract PEO provider.Founded in 1964 founded to help people with disabilities find jobs, MDI specializes in manufacturing corrugated plastic products. Today it employs about 450 people statewide with annual sales topping $30 million. AMGS, founded by Wobbema during the pandemic, works with manufacturers to design and create systems that keep machines and people safely distanced.

As MDI struggled to find workers and looked to automation, Witherill tapped Wobbema’s expertise to piece together efficient and economical robots to maintain competitive success and relieve staff members of repetitive work.

Wobbema recommended a consultant who helped MDI customize two robots that cut capital costs in half. Ally Johnston, who facilitates the Hibbing peer council, says the collaboration helped MDI keep the focus on its mission of employment. “They really want to have jobs, and so the more competitive they can be and the more product lines they can offer, the more jobs they can offer to people,” she says.

Witherill and Wobbema also shared their experiences with suppliers and material costs. Wobbema, who runs a much smaller company, says he and Witherill are exploring ways to leverage MDI’s buying power to supply some of AMGS’s gauge wire needs.

As Bob Kill has often noted about our peer councils, our objective is to lead the meetings and then get out of the way. “Our focus is not telling manufacturers anything but letting them share their own knowledge and experiences. That’s the power of peer councils.”

Read more about peer councils, MDI, and AMGS in the latest issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.

Learn more about peer council opportunities

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