When manufacturing picks up, it provides a domino effect where many other industries follow, including banking and exporting, a panel of experts told more than 100 participants Thursday at a forum covering manufacturing and international business.
Local experts were optimistic about the future of the industry at the newsmakers' forum presented by the Daily Herald Business Ledger at the Wojcik Conference Center at Harper College.
"We're starting to see improvements," said panelist Timothy J. Doyle, senior vice president at Fifth Third Bank Chicago. He brought the audience back to the financial collapse of 2008. "What I saw in September that year is something I don't want to see again -- fear in everybody's eyes," he said. Manufacturers reported to him that they didn't get calls for orders for days.
He said we have emerged from the disaster and that manufacturers are now seeing record years. "We're starting to see improvements. Demand and production are up 200 percent over a year ago," he said. Doyle explained that the manufacturers are the "bread and butter" of his business, pointing to commercial and industrial lending and commercial and real estate projects. "We're close. Banks and manufacturers are tied at the hip," he said.
Panelist Dennis McCaslin said the same is true in trade credit management. He spoke about the export business and the risk of shipping products to countries where there is political and economic instability. McCaslin, vice president, trade credit practice, at Marsh Inc., informed participants about the importance of trade credit insurance. "Finding out who your customer is is difficult," he said adding that getting credit information on them is sometimes impossible.
Panelist Hikaru "Koh" Fujimoto shared several opportunities on how local businesses can improve by looking at international companies. Fujimoto, a CPA with Corbett, Duncan & Hubly, suggested doing more business with Japanese firms in our area. "There are more than 500 Japanese companies doing business here in Illinois. And they understand U.S. practices," he said. Fujimoto also suggested looking to Mexico for business opportunity.
Two of the panelists addressed the skills gap and what has to be done to attract skilled workers to manufacturing. Starting to present high-tech manufacturing options to younger students is critical, said Doug Pierce, chief learning officer at DMG/Mori Seiki University. He said they are talking with middle school aged students as well as teenagers in high school.
Mary Beth Ottinger, dean of career and technical programs at Harper College, agreed. She said the college is using social media and the Internet to bring in the nontraditional student.
She added that Harper is utilizing grants, like many area community colleges, to support programs. Students are being made aware that manufacturing is now more computers than elbow grease.
"There is not a quick fix to this, but there is progress being made," Pierce said.
Presenting sponsors for the forum included Corbett, Duncan & Hubly, a CPA firm in Itasca; Fifth Third Bank, Harper College and Marsh Inc, a global insurance and risk management firm. American Slide Chart was the corporate sponsor.
• To find out more about what the panelists had to say, check out the Oct. 28 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger, where they will be featured.