Its about people, industry leaders say’

September 20th, 2012

News Coverage:
KPC News

Its about people, industry leaders say

Thursday, September 20, 2012

BY KATHRYN BASSETT kathrynb@kpcnews.net

AUBURN — Five northeast Indiana industry leaders delivered a message with a common theme Thursday: People are the best resources for a company’s success

The area businessmen spoke in a panel discussion for the Northeast Indiana Regional Economic Development Forum at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. The event was hosted by economic development agencies in DeKalb, Noble, Steuben and LaGrange counties.
 
Panel members were Mike Hughes, plant manager for Kraft Foods in Kendallville; Jon Jensen, president and CEO of Group Dekko, headquartered in Garrett; Robert Jacoby, president, and Doug Jackson, general manager, of Autofirm Tool and Manufacturing Inc. in Steuben County; and Mike Sutter, president and CEO of Michiana Laminated Products Inc. in LaGrange.
 
“It all gets down to the people,” Jensen said.
 
The biggest challenge facing his company is finding technical talent, Jensen added. To address that need, the company has begun an internship project that allows potential employees to get inside the plant and see the possibilities.
 
Sutter said his company has difficulty finding potential employees who have “soft skills” such as a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, willingness to show up for work and initiative.
 
“It doesn’t do us any good to have somebody who is skilled with a piece of equipment if they’re not going to come to work,” Sutter said. He said the message, “The only thing I have to sell is the ability to do a good job,” is not being taken to heart.
 
Hughes said an efficient plan and doing good business have enabled Kendallville’s Kraft plant to be successful. In his career at Kraft, Hughes has closed some plants.
 
“Their business had lost its relevance,” Hughes said,
 
He related a situation at Kraft’s Post Cereal plant in Battle Creek, Mich., where the plant was floundering because it was producing three cereals that were not selling well.
 
“The lines were very, very efficient,” Hughes said. “The people in the plant community got together and came up with mixing three cereals together.”
 
The result, Hughes said, was the creation of a popular cereal, Honey Bunches of Oats.
 
Last year, Hughes said, employees at the Kendallville plant came up with numerous new products that led to growth and stability.
 
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Hughes said.
 
Hughes said he has been very impressed with the work ethic and talent of his plant’s employees. The challenge, he said, is that as those employees progress and move up through the company, there will be a need to get students interested in manufacturing jobs to fill those slots.
 
Hughes said it is important to sell both the local community and manufacturing as a career path for youth in the community.
 
Jacoby and Jackson agreed they see a need for workers with technical and maintenance skills.
 
“The need for skilled labor is increasing. We see a need in our business for more skilled trades,” Jacoby said. “We promote from within. One of the things that brought us to Angola is the people. People are our best resource.”
 
“Our experience has been very positive,” Jackson added. “Our future is very, very bright. … Our success came because we have a lot of dedicated people.”
 
Also speaking at Thursday’s forum was location consultant Donald Paslowski. Working for Austin Co., Paslowski has performed and directed site selection studies for a diverse clientele.
 
Paslowski emphasized the importance of “keeping your community in the game” and not providing reasons for a potential investor to walk away. To compete, communities must be prepared and ready for new investment before it happens. Successful communities have an inventory of sites and buildings, appropriate utility infrastructure, a labor force ready to work and community support for industry, he said.
 
An inventory of sites and buildings should include detailed information on available properties. “Certified” sites and buildings are ready for development and have the documentation to prove it, Paslowski added.
 
Community appearance that reflects pride and unity also is important to site selectors, Paslowski said. The downtown district, government offices, streetscape, parks, schools and housing all are taken into consideration.
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