One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy government and business leaders. James E. Tebay is president of the Foundation for Manufacturing Excellence Inc.
Q. What is the Foundation for Manufacturing Excellence and what is its purpose?
The foundation is a non-profit organization, which is designed to aid manufacturers, and in aiding manufacturers its specific purpose is to link the needs of those manufacturers to the many, many resources that exist within the state.
Q. What was the impetus for its beginning?
There were really three different sources: the corporate people, the governmental people and the academic people.
The corporate people recognized that there was some confusion as to what was available, both within the colleges and universities and within the state and federal government. And so they needed some clearinghouse with which to communicate and figure these things out. The government people sensed the same thing, and so they wished to have some independent organization to assist getting their resources delivered to the various manufacturers. And finally we have many, many very fine universities and colleges in our community, and they too had many seminars, workshops, roundtables that were useful to manufacturers and felt that there was a need for manufacturers to know about them. So it became an outreach organization as a consequence of three different organizations thinking that outreaching was necessary.
Q. And when did it start?
A. It started July 1, 1990. We did one major grant proposal writing effort in the fall, and then it [the organization] really became operational as of January.
Q. How is the foundation funded?
The foundation really has two major source categories. First of all, it is a membership organization. We charge a very nominal fee to manufacturers, and we also have affiliate members -- those people who provide services to manufacturers -- and finally we have associate memberships -- the non-profit organizations such as colleges and universities that also provide those services. The second general category is grant funding. During our initial year, we have received [grants] from three different sources. The first of these is a grant from GBC [Greater Baltimore Committee] which in turn came from DEED [Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development]. The second grant came from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and the final grant came from the Able Foundation.
Q. How many members do you have?
We have a consortium, an active consortium of about 150 people that meets frequently. That constitutes the fundamental membership. We're just starting a membership campaign drive. I would like to believe that over the next year or year and a half, our membership should grow to 700 to 800 people.
What is the current status of Maryland's manufacturing industry?
A. Well, if you take a long-term look, it has declined over the last 15 or so years. The measurement for this decline can be expressed either in the jobs within manufacturing and/or the part of the state product delivered as a percentage of the total. In either case, it turns out the numbers are similar. So in either case, it has gone from something like 20 percent to something slightly under 10 percent. However, I do believe that it is now stable. I don't expect any further significant decay.
What contributed to the decline?
There really were two factors. No. 1, we had some fundamental industries in our state that had to go through substantial restructuring. I'm thinking, for example, of primary metals. But then, in addition to that, a lot of small and medium-sized manufacturers didn't recognize that they were competing on a global basis. That is to say, they weren't improving their operation in terms of modernization of the facility and/or improvement of the human resources, skill training and all the rest. And so they fell behind, and somebody else was a better competitor and got that business. So perhaps the one word for this is complacency.
Do you think that the state government and the academic institutions also became complacent as far as manufacturing goes and placed too much of an emphasis on high technology and biotechnology?
Well it's interesting to talk about high technology and biotechnology. It sounds like a clean, exciting highly skilled kind of an effort, but I believe that the thinking people, both in the government and in various universities, have always spoken out about the concern that they had that we must maintain a significant manufacturing base.
Q. Why is it important to have a manufacturing base?