Surviving against China and other offshore competitors was a worry shared by many of the 155 participants May 21 in a regional networking conference for manufacturers held at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.
The Regional Technology Alliance of Hadley, Mass., organized the event in conjunction with Eastec held May 20-23 in West Springfield, Mass., as a forum for more than a dozen groups serving Massachusetts, northern Connecticut and southern Vermont.
``China is not the sole cause of our problem, but we have the largest single trade deficit that we've ever had in the history of the U.S., and I feel that if the government will address it, other deficits will fall in place,'' said keynote speaker Bill Cermak, founder of Save American Manufacturing.
Cermak took vacation time from his job at an Illinois mold maker to tell the story of SAM and his attempt to rally government support to bolster manufacturing. He said he started the organization when he felt his letters to elected officials were being ignored. His idea was to start a Chicago-area group, but Cermak said that in 41/2 months, the idea has spread to 13 chapters and 2,000 registered supporters.
His group's latest venture is to list on its Web site the members of Congress who the group believes have shown support for American manufacturing. Cermak said that will allow SAM chapters to support elected officials who feel as they do.
``I know that American manufacturing is in more trouble than ever before,'' said Jeff Somple, president of the north division of Mack Molding Co. of Arlington, Vt.
He said the dramatic increase in offshore molding has forced his company to change its focus. Back in the late 1970s, Mack was known for its computer and business equipment work. Now, he said, the company avoids business that will take it in direct competition with China and focuses on its strengths in large parts, and areas where its expertise and distance can be an advantage. He pointed to the medical, office furniture, industrial, lawn and garden, and sports and recreation markets as key.
``We don't want to develop a program that will be taken offshore. We ask where will it be in five years,'' Somple said.
He said companies with strategic plans that can change quickly are those apt to survive.
Others saw the networking as part of the solution.
``What was unique was that we had 12 business organizations under the same roof talking about items pertinent to them,'' said Humera Fasihuddin, director of the alliance's cluster development.
Peter Abair, from the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, pointed to economic incentive programs and various other state and local programs aimed at either keeping or increasing jobs.
He applauded the effort of the regional meeting, noting that ``working with a cluster, even if it means going across the [state] border, is the future of economic development.''