Find the people, resources, news & events that interest you.
South Bend is undergoing a transformation, particularly in the realm of manufacturing. A number of “advanced manufacturing” firms have taken root in the area, capitalizing on a pre-existing skilled labor force and a strong local tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship.
South Bend ON recently talked to Pat McMahon, executive director of Project Future, the advocate for economic development in South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County, and with Phil D’Amico, director of business growth for the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County and the City of South Bend, to explore the many facets of advanced manufacturing in South Bend.
South Bend ON: What is “advanced” manufacturing?
|Phil D'Amico and Pat McMahon|
Pat McMahon: It’s high-quality manufacturing that demands special or high-end skill sets. Experienced workers with specialized, post-secondary training often earn upwards of $23 to $25 per hour compared with low-end, assembly line workers that are paid less. Much of the low-end assembly work has gone overseas, except for products such as RVs that are too big, too bulky, or too difficult to assemble and ship.
Phil D’Amico: Typically, advanced manufacturing involves skill sets necessary for running computerized equipment. I agree with Pat that it involves a highly skilled workforce. You almost can’t run a machine unless you have some kind of training or post-secondary education. Manufacturing today is usually classified as manufacturing logistics. It’s one thing to produce the goods, but the second part is their distribution. They go hand-in-hand. In Indiana, we have roughly 565,000 people working in manufacturing or logistics. One-fifth of them are in this region, so about 16 to 17 percent of our economy is in the manufacturing business. This means manufacturing logistics is still very viable in our region. Most of those would be classified as advanced manufacturing, where you are running computerized equipment to produce high-end components for sophisticated equipment.
McMahon: That’s right. Companies doing well here have been able to change with market demands. They have the capacity, the advanced equipment, the skilled workers and the ability to make engineering and design changes to make products. Over the past 25 years, most of the new manufacturing operations in South Bend have developed product niches, strong resources or logistical relationships in their markets.
South Bend ON: What local companies are successful at advanced manufacturing?
|Pat McMahon, Project Future|
McMahon: There are so many. APCI Inc., for example, is doing specialty friction welding. Hess Industries and Mack Tool are examples of forward-thinking manufacturers that advanced early into national markets. Steel Warehouse and Enzyme Research Laboratories Inc. are niche manufacturers making sophisticated, specialized products. The list goes on and on.
D’Amico: Value Tool makes a number of specialized parts for fighter jets like the F-18. General Sheet Metal is the No. 1 supplier of lawnmower blades to Toro. Bertrand Products is a high-end supplier to Bell Helicopter and Boeing. Jobs that have gone overseas are coming back. Damon Products, which makes hydraulics, is an example of manufacturing that went off to China and came back here because of the quality of our advanced manufacturing.
McMahon: The loss of Studebaker required a lot of the manufacturing in South Bend to diversify. In the long run, that was a good thing, because it made people move into different industry segments. It’s hard to find an industry segment that isn’t served in some way by the manufacturing base here. The pressure to diversify is why South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County can now compete with any other location.
South Bend ON: What are you doing to retain advanced manufacturing here, and what’s the future for it?
|Phil D'Amico, The St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce|
D’Amico: The Chamber has been very active with education initiatives involving the areas of machining, welding, building trades, industrial maintenance, computer skills and anything we can do to push the skilled educational process forward. South Bend Community Schools, Ivy Tech, Purdue’s advanced manufacturing program, even programs with the National Tool Manufacturing Association, the Apprentice Academy with Vincennes and WorkOne – all focus on programs outside pre-college courses. Nanotechnology, for example, is among the future areas requiring specialized skills and credentials that people will need in order to work in advanced manufacturing.
McMahon: We have a huge edge over many communities because of the Metronet. We have reduced the cost of connectivity by a factor of 50 — again, this not by 50 percent but by a factor of 50 — a huge cost reduction. This tremendous increase in the amount of bandwidth has given us a more competitive infrastructure. We are also working with the University of Notre Dame to identify technology niches — the intellectual property that might lend itself to commercialization. This new opportunity is the leg of the stool that has been missing since 1970. Phil mentioned nanotechnology, which is just one of the new technology niche opportunities we’re looking at. We’ve actually identified more than a dozen of these niches that have promising commercialization potential.
D’Amico: It’s all part of doing research and development before the manufacturing can take place. We have many good years ahead of us, for sure.
McMahon: Yes, we hope to see a number of new business initiatives and new product initiatives. Our goal over the next several years is to put infrastructure in place to support these opportunities as they occur.