Minnesota’s legislature this year re-established the popular and insanely successful Growth Acceleration Program (GAP), administered by Enterprise Minnesota, which gives small manufacturers access to cutting edge techniques and training at rates they can afford.
GAP is an eight-year-old program whereby the State invests in manufacturers and manufacturers match these investments to receive consulting services that increase operational efficiencies and promote growth.
It’s easy to see why the legislature views GAP as a government investment that yields a tangible ROI. Since 2008, 245 Minnesota manufacturing companies have taken advantage of GAP. These manufacturers have:
- Created and retained 2,146 Minnesota jobs.
- Boosted company sales by $148 million.
- Saved $29.9 million in business costs.
On average, GAP generated a $30-to-$1 return-on-investment.
Insiders say many legislators became personally acquainted with their local manufacturers through one of the more than 300 manufacturing tours coordinated by Enterprise Minnesota all across Minnesota.
Policymakers, their staffs and community leaders leave these tours with an eye-opening appreciation for what manufacturers bring to their constituencies. They see that manufacturers are an increasingly high-tech local job creator, whose employees enjoy well-paid careers in challenging and rewarding environments. On top of this, they understand that manufacturers provide an economic multiplier effect that impacts the bottom lines of suppliers and contractors, as well as lawyers, bankers, accountants and insurers.
To be eligible for GAP, companies must be located in Minnesota. They must be in manufacturing or in a related industry, employ 250 or fewer full-time employees, have a business plan for improvements and demonstrate an economic need for GAP.
Stern Companies used GAP to solve a production problem
Shawn Hunstad, president of Brainerd-based Stern Companies, first used GAP funding several years ago to help his company work through a particularly sticky production challenge.
Stern is a global sourcing and manufacturing specialist that produces polymer components for recreational vehicles, sporting equipment, industrial waterworks, medical and food packaging and agriculture. The 50-employee company was incorporated in 1995 as a spin-off of Stern Rubber Co., and is now privately owned by Hunstad.
A group of company employees had just gone through Practical Problem Solving with consultants at Enterprise Minnesota where they had been introduced to Toyota’s A3 process, a standardized methodology for innovating, planning and problem solving.
Hunstad convened an A3 meeting to brainstorm possible solutions.
But more to the point, the solution showed employees how to collaborate on creative solutions. Hunstad said he could feel unmistakable enthusiasm from the team when it presented its findings. “It was exciting to see some of these employees, who you didn’t hardly hear a word from otherwise, get excited about the project they were working on,” he said.
To help Stern improve its work processes, Enterprise Minnesota consultants led the company’s plant floor operators through the principles of Practical Problem Solving, which include defining a problem, analyzing the issue, developing an implementation plan and taking steps to solve the problem at the source. The operators will then be expected to share their knowledge with other employees.