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I had a conversation yesterday with a small contract manufacturer in Colorado. The shop owner was describing the challenges he has being a discrete parts manufacturer (CNC/manual milling, turning, EDM) in a state that "doesn't promote manufacturing."
Not many steel mills around these parts, huh?
Now, I don't entirely agree with his assessment, but I do see his point. Aside from California & Washington, most western US states aren't hotbeds for industrial commerce - at least not the kind our friend is talking about. And Colorado isn't exactly in the rust belt. On the other hand, every state these days - including Colorado - is certainly looking to boost its economy and employment. Maybe Colorado isn't pushing THE KIND of manufacturing he or you may like, but they certainly aren't adverse to business. You feelin' me?
The fact is, there are opportunities available for small manufacturers that feel there are few to be had in there state or region. Here are some suggestions I gave our friend, from my recent experiences with similar manufacturers and from our observations on MFG.com:
Get your Web site in order: Your site is where buyers and prospects are researching you. It's 2010, not 1998. You should be on developing or nurturing your business' site like John Goodman on a fried twinkie.
MRO work for local manufacturers: There are almost ALWAYS "manufacturers" in his/your region that aren't in what 's considered the "sweet spot." Instead of lamenting the decline of buyers in "traditional" markets, look for manufacturers in areas like food processing, agriculture, energy/power, pharmaceuticals and others. They often have large, precision equipment that require spare parts in inventory for maintenance, repair & operations. Many small manufacturers are doing quite well utilizing this under-utilized approach.
Go "Green" - and hurry: When I first mentioned to our friend that clean energy is jumping - especially in the western states - he balked. Then after reflecting, admitted that he had heard of "wind and solar manufacturers in the area." These cats are often looking for quick turnaround and reducing the carbon footprint of their supply chains. Local is often good, and while his/your history or capabilities may not be in clean energy, they can often translate. Approach them, and market yourself VIA YOUR WEB SITE accordingly. But act now - many of his/your competitors are pursuing this work and quantities are limited.
Go (farther) West: Remaining a "regionally-focused" small manufacturer is rife with peril these days - communications and the availability of machining supplier options are commoditizing these businesses around the country. One option is to "step out" of a comfort zone. For our friend - with low overhead and relatively low regulatory/tax burdens - going to California & Washington to pursue aerospace work might be the ticket. They aren't too far, work is picking up, there are fewer suppliers available, and the cost issue cannot be overemphasized.
The bottom line for small manufacturers in any region these days is to be creative, step out of your comfort zone(s) and build on your strengths. Waiting for things to go back to the way they were simply isn't an option.