Google+ Badge

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Who says American innovation is dead?

American innovation. What’s that mean? Does it have the same significance today as years gone by?

I grew up in the heartland of American innovation. My dad, now long retired from General Motors, worked for many years for their Terex earth mover division before it was sold to a Scottish company. He finished his career at various auto plants in Northeast Ohio.

I remember as a child the Christmas display that Terex would erect in the expansive front lawn of their facility in Hudson, Ohio. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, created from various types of the company’s machinery. It was a visible reminder to the community each year of the American innovation occurring behind the doors of that massive plant.

That plant occupant is long gone from Hudson and has been replaced by a variety of smaller businesses. Whether they’ve succeeded to fill the hundreds of thousands of square feet of manufacturing space, I don’t know.

Just 20 minutes south of there, lay the reminders of similar stories in downtown Akron, the former Rubber Capital of the World. General Tire, gone, bought by Germany’s Continental and moved to North Carolina. Firestone, most operations moved out, bought by Japan’s Bridgestone and moved to Nashville. B.F. Goodrich, gone, acquired by France’s Michelin and moved to South Carolina. Even the lone remaining original Akron rubber tenant, Goodyear, long ago shut down most of its local production. Some of the buildings that hosted all those operations have found a second life as the home to newer, smaller businesses. But, there’s no question the hangover of all that consolidation in the 1980s and early 1990s still haunts Northeast Ohio today, especially after the latest recession.

And, I’m sure that story is replayed across the country in various industries.

But there are bright spots. Perhaps losing some of those manufacturing giants has given all of us a greater appreciation for the businesses that remain and continue to push American innovation. I look at our clients and I see a high level of innovation and craftsmanship that many have assumed was shipped overseas along with so many jobs.

Companies like ProVia, a manufacturer of entry doors, replacement windows, vinyl siding and manufactured stone, whose home base is in Sugarcreek, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. They create and manufacture their products at facilities in Ohio and Mississippi. This month, they launched a web-based home remodeling tool that enables homeowners to sample ProVia products on photos of their own homes. That’s innovation.

Another client, T.O. Plastics, in Clearwater, Minn., manufactures custom thermoformed plastic packaging, housings and products for a variety of industries, including medical, electronics, food packaging, consumer, industrial and horticulture. Last month, they debuted two new plant tray products, produced at their plant in Clearwater, in partnership with their customer Plant Pie. That’s innovation.

And, another client, Industrial Service Solutions, which recently acquired and owns seven industrial service companies around the country, oversaw the redesign or expansion of several of those firms’ websites: Bay Valve Service, Inc., of Seattle, which provides valve repair services for customers in 17 western states; Mid-American Machine & Equipment, of LeRoy, Kan., which sells refurbished, reconditioned and used industrial machinery and equipment; and Madison-Smith Machine & Tool Co., of Glasgow, Ky., which provides machining, fabricating and field services. That’s innovation.

Innovation comes in many forms across a wide variety of industries: One of our Akron-based clients, Union Process, just collaborated with a Pennsylvania company to incorporate UP’s particle size reduction equipment into a lime slaking to produce high-quality lime slurry and eliminate grit disposal and its associated problems.

Wilmington, Mass.-based Metrigraphics LLC, a leading designer and manufacturer of micro flex thin film circuits, recently delivered its 15 millionth sensor substrate to a major medical device OEM. That milestone is just one point in a six-year relationship during which Metrigraphics has collaborated with its customer to develop and qualify a growing number of variants for new applications.

ATL, a Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based maker of flexographic labels, is at the forefront of innovation in anti-counterfeiting packaging – helping other manufacturers protect their own innovations and securing the intellectual property rights of American industries.

All smaller than the industrial giants I remember as a kid, but American innovators nonetheless and the type of businesses all around us that will continue to create opportunities for homeland workers and define American greatness for years to come.

No comments: