“‘What is the overview of manufacturing in the U.S. and Arizona?’ That’s the question no one is asking. It’s a landscape of profound changes — especially for manufacturers who up their game and move up the value chain.”
Brian Sherman is filled with enthusiasm. As the senior vice president of business development for the Arizona Commerce Authority, he is the manufacturing “yenta” for the state’s official economic development agency; a “yenta” being a marriage broker hooking up couples perfect for each other.
“My No. 1 goal for 2014 is bringing together well-established manufacturers with business experience and an eye on growth with the young entrepreneurs who are building businesses from ideas and need prototypes and business acumen,” says Sherman. As the designated matchmaker, Sherman and his team have a new role at Arizona Commerce.
“Arizona is a land of innovation, and that’s what gives us an edge for manufacturers,” he says. “The day of business sitting back and waiting for orders is over. ‘Cranking it out’ has moved offshore, and businesses competing in that marketplace are going to get hit hard on price points.”
“Where a small- or medium-size manufacturer is going to succeed is with technical solutions and not just products. Innovation is what makes this state great,” Sherman’s on a roll. “We’ve got well-established manufacturing businesses aligned with our key sectors—but those same businesses could move into parallel sectors and grow even more. That’s what our team at Arizona Commerce is doing. We’re positioning these businesses for the next trend.”
Parallel sectors: Family classics meet Generation Z
“We have classic family manufacturers across the state. They’ve been around for decades; some for multiple generations. The make stuff.” Sherman calls them ‘salt-of-the-earth’ companies. “They’re starting to feel some of the pressure of the sequestration and recognizing that depending on defense or government is not the road to the future.”
“Then we’ve got these young entrepreneurs. They want to write code. They want to make games and apps,” he enumerates the issues. “They think manufacturing is stodgy, dead end and offshore. But they don’t really see the full picture. They’ll tell me, ‘yes, I have this vendor over in Taiwan and he’ll make this.’ Trying to prototype a product from 10 thousand miles away doesn’t let you see how it’s going to be built.”
“Back at the small manufacturer, let’s say it’s an aerospace or defense business. That’s high-precision work. The skills going into what it’s making now can be adapted into other high-precision manufacturing—like biomedical devices.” Sherman’s enthusiasm is contagious. “So we take the tech startup and the established business, bring them together and show the young entrepreneur that manufacturing can be pretty sexy. We show the manufacturer that the tech startup has the innovations and ideas that can be adapted for future growth.”
RevAZ: Arizona Commerce Authority consulting services
Sherman’s teams at Commerce work with manufacturing businesses as consultants — and in some cases bring in outside consultants — to help businesses transition into the next economy. The service is designed to revitalize Arizona manufacturing. “Rev AZ is just a phone call away,” explains Sherman. “We show how innovation, diversification, and shared knowledge helps companies position for trends and profitably grow. We bring in the experts to help businesses manufacture — both new and old.”
Back to that prototype, he says, “If the tech startup can have the prototype built here, it gives the view of how the production floor needs to function in order to turn out the product. It brings the new generation of innovation and technology into the experienced hands of our existing manufacturing businesses. It also opens new sectors for old business.”