Basing Shingo Prize Here Is Completely Logical

September 20, 2004
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The Right Place Program and its manufacturer’s council bringing the Shingo Prize to Michigan and acting as its state administrator makes all kinds of sense.

That’s not to suggest that basing the operation of the prize in this community confers some special advantage upon local firms competing for it.

Rather, basing the Michigan Shingo Prize here is yet another recognition that West Michigan business has carved out a very notable place in the global economy.

For a time it was fashionable in some forums to suggest that, thanks to free trade and low-wage overseas jobs, the United States just should give up on manufacturing. The supposition was that this nation instead should concentrate on being the big spider at the center of the world economy’s intellectual property web.

Meanwhile, West Michigan business made it apparent that manufacturing and intellectual property are two facets of the same diamond. Intellect and manufacturing play directly into each other. West Michigan’s businesses seem to have formed an economic nexus showing that intellectual capital can help a community maintain a very adaptive and highly competitive manufacturing position in the world.

Intentionally or not, The Right Place itself alluded to exactly this point last week when it released its economic report for September.

The report, like several of its predecessors, points out that the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland MSA is ranked third out of 129 regions in the World Knowledge Competitiveness Index; that is, in how effectively its businesses transform knowledge, capability and sustainability into commercial and economic value.

Moreover, the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland MSA also is the nation’s leader in per-capita research and development spending by business, and also is No. 1 in private equity investment per capita.

The region likewise ranks in the top 100 in wireless capacity, implying considerable information-handling sophistication and high-velocity information flow.

Given those intellectual, technical and capital rankings, it certainly seems to be no fluke that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also happens to rank this region first in the nation in manufacturing employment share. Nearly a fourth of all West Michigan workers are employed in manufacturing.

While these are just statistics, they appear to represent a powerful and possibly even unique blend of economic strengths that, in turn, exhibits long-term stamina.

Buttressing that contention is the report’s brief recounting that area manufacturers have “leveraged their core competencies” by skillfully adapting technology to production “embracing world-class practices … innovations, reduction in manufacturing costs, faster cycle times, working capital reductions, better quality, less waste … efficiencies in … supply chain management.”

In an economy where change is the dominating constant, West Michigan seems to have become particularly adept at keeping ahead of the high-speed shifts in the world’s economic tunes and rhythms.

So it wouldn’t be surprising if West Michigan firms at first win a disproportionate number of awards in the Shingo competition. But if they do, it will be thanks to their merits, not because the prize is based here. 

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