Hidden Champion: Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council is the voice of our economic ecosystem

The engine of the German national economy is the Mittelstand, small and mid-sized firms that account for the majority of the country’s GDP and employment. Many Mittelstand firms are locally and family-owned manufacturing firms located in rural parts of the country. They are not household names in the U.S. or even in Germany, but they form the backbone of the economy, powering the country’s automobile, aerospace, and countless other industries. According to the Harvard Business Review, these companies are the hidden champions of global competition, commanding impressive market share and leading Germany’s export success.

The key features of the Mittelstand – smaller size, locally owned, rural, manufacturing successes –  should sound familiar. These traits also describe many of our local “hidden champions” in the manufacturing sector. Small- and mid-sized manufacturers employ more than 13% of the workforce in the Grand Traverse region, make up almost 17% of employment in Grand Traverse County, and provide salaries that are 40% higher than our region’s average wage. These firms make components for automobiles, defense contractors and the aerospace industry. Local companies lead their respective markets in meteorological instruments, surgical instruments and large-format banners, to name just a few examples.

The voice of the manufacturing sector in our regional economic ecosystem is the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council (GTAMC). The Manufacturing Council was established to promote long-term thinking, education and collaboration through people and companies that allow us to make great things in northern Michigan. Its mission is to support a sustainable and globally competitive manufacturing sector for a stronger economy. GTAMC fulfills this mission by leading key programs and events, including an annual manufacturing summit for industry leaders, Manufacturing Day with more than 1,000 students learning about our local industry, and community support and networking through their annual golf outing, coming up Sept. 30.

The Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council has announced a partnership with Traverse Connect to amplify the growth of our regional manufacturing economy. This collaboration is designed to support the expansion of the manufacturing industry by growing the Grand Traverse region’s technological innovation footprint, providing manufacturers with the resources they need to grow and expand their businesses, and increasing the awareness and utilization of resources available to our local businesses.

Working together with local manufacturers and supportive programs, including Industry 4.0 automation and technology grants, Automation Alley, and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, we can improve the sustainability and growth of the local manufacturing sector, thereby strengthening our region’s overall economic health and the job prospects for our local workforce. We can also better leverage state-level initiatives such as the Reconnect scholarship program for training at community colleges, the Going Pro Talent Fund, and the new Strategic Outreach and Reserve Fund.

As with many local industries, the search for a talented workforce is a primary concern for manufacturers. Luckily, we have a strong and growing talent pipeline for skilled manufacturing training. Northwest Ed’s Engineering Academy, NMC’s Manufacturing Technology Program, and the newly announced TechMBA® program offered by Michigan Tech are working to provide current and future workers with advanced skills relevant for jobs in these growing industries. Michigan’s Creative Coast talent initiative, with the tagline “Make it Here,” features manufacturing jobs across the region that provide competitive, livable wages.

Just as our manufacturers built the critical machines of 20th century economic growth, they can lead the way in making the new technologies that will power economic resilience in the 21st century. Our region has incredible opportunities to participate in high-growth sectors such as energy efficiency, alternative energy, “Blue Economy” water technologies, and the electrification of vehicles and mobility. As a place known for making great things, our region is well-positioned for future business development opportunities.

Our local manufacturers, and the jobs they provide, can sometimes be overlooked. But much like their Mittelstand counterparts in Germany, the economic diversity, year-round employment, and long-term stability they provide are significant drivers of our overall economic success. It is imperative that the Grand Traverse region continue to be a leader in providing a supportive environment for manufacturing companies to grow and prosper.

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at warren.call@traverseconnect.org.