Yes Virginia there really is a GM plant here

April 16, 2012
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Yes, that is correct: We still have a General Motors plant in Greater Grand Rapids. It’s in Wyoming, to be precise, at Burton and Burlingame, and the 550 people who work there are going gangbusters.

On May 11, the second annual Kentwood-Wyoming Business Forum takes place at the Kentwood Library from 8-10:30 a.m. It is put on by the cities of Kentwood and Wyoming and the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce.

Ed DiEnno, president of the volunteer nonprofit Economic Development Corp. for Wyoming, will be one of the speakers, focusing on how to compete with low-cost manufacturers overseas. DiEnno is uniquely qualified to speak on that topic: His full-time job is plant manager at the General Motors Components Holding Facility mentioned above.

The plant primarily produces metal engine parts for GM passenger cars and light trucks. It has been there since 1946, and at one time was the Diesel Equipment Division of GM. Then it became part of Delphi, the big auto supplier. In late 2009, when the auto industry turmoil was one of the tragic chapters of the Great Recession, the plant reverted back to GM ownership and survived the downsizing and reorganization that led to the new GM.

Today: “Business is good. We are busy,” said DiEnno.

Here’s what DiEnno has learned about the strengths of the U.S. auto industry, compared to manufacturers overseas.

“A solid principle of people involvement is a real force multiplier,” said DiEnno. “We have a saying: ‘We don’t need 50 problem solvers in this organization as a management function. We need 550 problem solvers.’”

Employees become problem solvers “through involvement in their piece of the business and empowerment,” he said, which leads to changes within a standardized set of rules.

“The first real principle of efficient manufacturing is leveraging 100 percent of the intellect in the enterprise, and not just the engineering intellect or managerial intellect or technical intellect, but everyone,” said DiEnno. That means getting all employees involved in the issues of quality, continuous improvement, utilization of working capital — the kinds of things that DiEnno says are still “the domain of management” in the low-cost manufacturing countries.

“We have, especially in West Michigan, a very well valued, hardworking, well-educated work force, by and large. And to the extent that we can leverage all people, we can facilitate better results,” he said.

Other speakers at the forum will be William Strauss, senior economist and economic advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Pamela Poort, director of the Muskegon Area First Region 3 PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center).

Strauss will talk about the improving performance of manufacturing in Michigan, as well as future trends and challenges. Poort will go over the PTAC services that help companies get into or expand their business with government.

For more information, go to and click on “meetings and events,” or call the chamber at 531-5990. The forum costs $10 in advance and includes a continental breakfast.

Timely decision

The Michigan Business and Professional Association is calling for the timely release of the U.S. Supreme Court’s impending decision regarding the constitutionality of the federal Affordable Care Act and continued implementation of the state of Michigan’s “Health Care Exchange” as authorized by the State Senate and supported by Gov. Rick Snyder.

What the MBPA is not doing, however, is calling for the act’s abolishment.

“Although our association did not support the Affordable Care Act, we do not want to see the state lose its control of the key policy and program decisions required by the act while everyone speculates about the ultimate decision of the nation’s highest court,” said Jennifer Kluge, MBPA president and CEO. “We hope that, contrary to media reports, the Supreme Court will put politics aside and focus on doing its job on the legal issues in the case and release its decision as soon as practical under its normal procedures. Once a ruling is made, Michigan can move forward accordingly.”

Kluge explained that her remarks are in response to rumors at the federal level of possible delays in a ruling. She stressed that the more than 20,000 small business owners who make up MBPA cannot afford to hold up their health care planning much longer. Some businesses are moving forward with the new health care law, while others are awaiting official word from Washington.

Health insurance exchanges, as provided for by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, establish in each state a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can compare policies and premiums, and buy insurance with a government subsidy, if available.

Kluge noted that MBPA testified last summer before the State Senate Health and Insurance Joint Committee and the State House Health Policy Committee on the need for a state-run health insurance exchange. The association stressed the need for businesses to see cost savings, not increases, once the act takes full effect, and that this legislation creates more options, not hurdles, for the business community.

Picture perfect

John Lowery, president of Applied Imaging with six offices in Michigan, has been named the 2012 Michigan Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Founded by Lowery in 1987 and celebrating its 25th anniversary, Applied Imaging provides document imaging and managed IT services.

In a congratulatory letter to Lowery, SBA Administrator Karen Mills wrote: “Your hard work, innovative ideas, and dedication to your community have helped you succeed. The SBA is pleased to recognize your achievements and your role in driving our nation’s economic growth.”

Mills invited Lowery to receive his award in Washington May 21 during National Small Business Week and be a “part of a distinguished group of entrepreneurs from across the nation.”

With offices in Grand Rapids, Metro Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Big Rapids and Muskegon, Applied Imaging has grown to more than 130 employees with revenues totaling more than $26 million — a 50 percent increase in three years — and approximately 7,500 clients. As testimony to its commitment to the state, Applied Imaging introduced a “Keep It in the Mitt” mantra.

“We believe in Michigan because our state is committed to re-engineering its economy with its talented work force,” Lowery said.

Sign of the times

Obviously, there are too many people out there with too much time on their hands. And too many tech skills, too.

The Michigan Department of Transportation confirmed last week that a portable message sign board along I-94 in Detroit was hacked into during the early morning hours of April 9. The message board, owned and operated by a subcontractor, was advising motorists of the active I-94/M-39 interchange project.

The sign originally displayed: “Road work ahead.” A hacker broke into the control panel and changed the words to a racial epithet. The message board was hacked into shortly after midnight, but crews responded and had the message dismantled by 1 a.m., according to MDOT officials.

Michigan State Police are investigating the incident and have the electronic message board in their possession.

“Everyone at MDOT is appalled by this criminal act,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “We will do everything we can to cooperate with the Michigan State Police investigation and we look forward to bringing the responsible party to justice.”

Taking his or her computer away would be a good start.

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