Network links U.P. manufacturers

Michigan State Roundup

Published April 1, 1994  | April 1994 issue

Furniture manufacturers in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) have formed an industrial network that pools resources to compete nationally and boost the area economy.

By coordinating production efforts, the 10-member network hopes to improve efficiency and lower costs. In addition, development programs aimed at marketing, manufacturing and technology bring the former competitors together and promote the exchange of ideas.

The network is sponsored by the Manufacturing Services Unit of Northern Economic Initiatives Corp. (NEICorp), Marquette, a non-profit enterprise that works to improve the competitive position of the U.P. economy. NEICorp coordinates quarterly meetings at which the network board, comprised of all member firms, administers program funds and oversees the development of service programs. Participating companies have devoted about $500,000 to network activities.

Gene Davenport, vice president of Lloyd-Flanders Industries, a wicker furniture maker and network member, stresses the benefits of constructive criticism that arises from network communications. "Outside individuals look at operations from a new viewpoint and may make suggestions for improvement that we may not have seen."

Inter-company teamwork has resulted in large cost reductions in employee training, says Christine Rector, NEIC senior program director. For example, firms that once scheduled their own training programs now pay up to 10 times less for training shared through the network, Rector says.

"NEICorp pushes for opportunities to collectively market or manufacture products," says Rector. Lloyd- Flanders, for example, contracts prototype work to Orion Design and Development, a small manufacturer that is also a network member.

The network complements the U.P.'s emerging manufacturing sector. "For years [the economy] was very dependent on the mining industry, but it can't depend on that anymore. [Manufacturing] is not affected as much by the boom and bust cycles."

Cooperation has extended beyond the formal network. Recognizing the efficiency in working together, other U.P. companies have initiated joint shipping to alleviate freight charges.

Networks for other manufacturing industries are in the recruitment stage. NEICorp recently invited 20 machinery manufacturing and metal fabricating companies to attend an informational session with current members to learn how networks function.

Jason Zimmerman