NMC Training Services: A Friend to Business

RIch Wolin

During the past 30 years, hundreds of business and nonprofits across northern Michigan have discovered an ally: Northwest Michigan College’s Training Services.

“Our goal is to enhance the talent of the region’s workforce, enable organizations to be successful and contribute to the economic health of our region,” said Director of NMC Training Services Rich Wolin. “We do that through assessments, customized training, coaching and continuous improvement.”

About 60 percent of those programs help manufacturers and “processors” – the latter a catchall term for companies in the food processing, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, coatings or refining sectors that use formulas or recipes to make their product from ingredients rather than parts. The remaining 40 percent of clients are in healthcare and real estate or at non-profits organizations such as schools.

What all of them share in common is a desire to work smarter, reduce waste and constantly improve.

Businesses across the center’s 21-county service area in 2015 reported:

  • More than $24 million in increased sales
  • Nearly $28 million in retained sales
  • Nearly $3 million in savings, cost and investment
  • Nearly $11 million in new investments
  • 28 new jobs
  • 21 retained jobs

Business leaders interviewed say NMC Training Services was a key factor in their successes.

“The NMC Lean Manufacturing Champion and Lean Office Champion programs have helped us build momentum, engage our employees in new ways, foster a culture of continuous improvement and drive waste out of our processes,” said Corey Geer, CFO of Shoreline Fruit. “The NMC training staff excels in bringing clarity, purpose, and urgency to everything they teach.”

Geer isn’t alone. Ninety-three percent of clients say they would recommend the service to other organizations. Matt Davis, CEO of Armor Express, a family-operated, Central Lake-based that produces tactical body armor, vests, helmets and shields for law enforcement and military personnel, has used training center “bootcamps” to go “lean” throughout manufacturing as well as office processes.

“’Lean’ is all about providing the most value to customers while consuming the fewest resources. There’s a constant emphasis on eliminating waste and improving safety, quality and efficiency,” Davis said. “We have grown in leaps and bounds. Profitability is up. Quality has also markedly improved. And when you make lifesaving products, that’s important.”

But data and testimonials do not measure the full impact of NMC Training Services on the economy since not all industries and projects are surveyed.

The seven-person staff helps run about 40 projects at a time and administers state programs such as the Skill Trades Training Fund and the nearly $3 million New Jobs Training Program, which reaches 27 companies.

“They’ve also put together a group, the Lean Learning Consortium, or LLC,” said Matt Bulloch of Traverse City-based, outdoor advertising manufacturer TentCraft. “There are all kinds of different businesses involved in it. We share best practices.”
Bulloch credits NMC Training Services with helping TentCraft grow.

“We used to have 20 people, now we have 75,” he said. “Lean tools are about the systematic avoidance of waste. We’ve learned to root out inefficiencies and constantly make things better. The changes aren’t always lightning bolts. Lots of times it’s about making your business just a little better every day.”

Wolin said communications throughout an organization lie at the heart of many manufacturing and office improvements. His staff practices what it preaches. A close-knit group, they meet every week to discuss new projects. With 40 projects currently underway, that level of communication becomes important.

Among its activities, NMC Training Services, sponsors National Manufacturing Day locally, hosts the regional office of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (MMTC) and conducts regional wage surveys.

Up to three quarters of the income for Training Services comes from fees for services. The balance flows through a contract with the MMTC and originates from federal funds and state support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.


Wolin feels the recent addition of staff member Lynn Tilson to the staff last October is having a positive effect on the group’s offerings.

“She has a wealth of experience in transactional lean and strong analytical skills,” Wolin said.

Tilson, a Lean Six-Sigma Black Belt, brings to the job valuable experience business with Owens Illinois, a global leader in glass containers and packaging products for the food and hospitality industries, he said.

She works with local organizations to develop their Lean expertise at both the strategic and tactical levels. Having also worked in healthcare and blood management services, she experienced firsthand how following a plan can literally impact people’s lives. Her driving philosophy, Wolin said, is the Ben Franklin quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

A native of Sault Saint Marie, Mich., she has redesigned the training center’s Lean Office Simulation. This four-hour training program on transactional lean practices is an order-to-invoice process developed a dozen years ago. Through her analysis, Tilson identified ways to increase the value-added time to the learner and reduce the trainer explanation phase by 50 percent. She also increased the value-added learning time and reduced the kit restocking time.

“This is just a simple example of how even seasoned Lean practitioners can benefit from a fresh perspective and a new set of eyes,” Wolin said.