Manufacturers Discuss How to Face Foreign Competition - aftermarketNews

Manufacturers Discuss How to Face Foreign Competition

About 10 years ago, Lombard, Ill.-based Olson International Ltd. had four manufacturing plants making components for seat belts, airbags and other parts for the automotive industry. Besides Lombard, plants were at their peak in Chicago, Texas and Mexico with as many as 1,000 workers at one time. But that time has passed.

From Daily Herald

CHICAGO — About 10 years ago, Lombard, Ill.-based Olson International Ltd. had four manufacturing plants making components for seat belts, airbags and other parts for the automotive industry.

Besides Lombard, plants were at their peak in Chicago, Texas and Mexico with as many as 1,000 workers at one time.

But that time has passed.

Today, President Timothy Gleason wants to bolster the 70-year-old manufacturing company against stiffer overseas competition, including China. He already has trimmed the ranks to around 500 and is seeking new revenue sources or joint ventures with other U.S.-based companies.

“We want to remain a family-owned business, so we need to re-invent ourselves,” Gleason said.

Gleason was among 170 manufacturing executives who gathered Tuesday in Schaumburg, Ill., to discuss foreign competition during the Manufacturing and Economic Recovery Conference, hosted by Start Magazine, a trade publication for the manufacturing industry.

Marvin Steinlauf, co-founder and vice president of Buffalo Grove-based All-Foam Products Co., suggested increasing revenues by including the federal government as a customer.

Steinlauf hooked up with the Procurement Technical Assistance Center in Grayslake and learned how to complete the necessary forms to become a provider to the government.

Although the process was tedious and time-consuming, it was worth it. He obtained a contract to make foam products that store tools and inventory for the U.S. Air Force. His source at Procurement Technical Assistance Center also has become invaluable, Steinlauf said.

“It’s like having an expert on the payroll without being charged,” Steinlauf said.

William Blankemeier, president of Franklin Park, Ill.-based PeopleFlo Manufacturing, wants to see the tradition of manufacturing stay in America, especially since he just started last year producing pumps for the chemical industry. He employs five and plans to increase ranks to 15 later this year when deliver will start on his products.

“We’re on a mission overall to show we can be more efficient and more productive right here,” said Blankemeier.

These executives were all warned that the current wave of foreign competition won’t end, said Carol Ptak, vice president and global industry executive for manufacturing and distribution industries for PeopleSoft Inc.

“What we are facing is a crisis like never before and you have a choice to be the victor or the victim,” Ptak said. “The future is very different than what the past has been and dramatic changes are coming.”

She encouraged executives and owners to stay focused on their goals, not necessarily to cut costs, and to work together in the United States whenever possible.

“The world is changing around us and we need to change how we think,” she said.

Copyright 2004 Daily Herald. All Rights Reserved.

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