Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MAGNET wants to boost success of minority manufacturers

Nonprofit advocacy  group seeking to build relationships with Northeast Ohio MBEs, aid growth and development

Greater Cleveland’s lagging track record regarding minority business development is increasingly being recognized as a drag on regional growth, at odds with demographic trends nationwide, and a leading contributor to the talent exodus of some of the area’s best and brightest.

But as business consultant Henry Butler noted at an intimate gathering of Northeast Ohio black manufacturers earlier this summer, Greater Cleveland business leaders are gradually coming to the recognition that “growth without inclusion isn’t sustainable”.
Manufacturers Darrell McNair of MVP Plastics and Larry Fulton of LEFCO Worthington share lessons from their experiences with MAGNET.

Butler shared his observation as a preface to a low-key session designed to introduce MAGNET*, the region’s leading nonprofit manufacturing consultant, to the small but significant number of northeast Ohio manufacturing firms owned by people of color. Butler and attorney Stacey Polk coordinated the session. The two are principals in LCR Enterprises LLC, which has been retained by MAGNET to aid the nonprofit’s inclusion efforts.

Ethan Karp, MAGNET CEO

MAGNET CEO Ethan Karp in his welcome spoke to the agency’s offices efforts to become more client-centric, and to serve more clients in the minority community. With refreshing candor, Karp said he knew how to help manufacturers solve problems but that he was clueless about the special challenges black businesses might face.

Two successful African American manufacturers were on hand to share their experiences working with MAGNET. Darrell McNair, CEO of MVP Plastics, a Geauga County Tier 2 supplier to the automotive industry, and a former MAGNET trustee, said he found the agency especially helpful in doing an assessment analysis related to his opening of a new plant last year in Texas. McNair related that most of his company’s business is done outside of Ohio, a frequent observation from many of Cleveland’s most successful African American business owners.

The group also heard from Larry Fulton, CEO of LEFCO Worthington, a manufacturer of wood crates. Fulton shared how MAGNET helped him improve LEFCO's employee engagement and achieve efficiencies in its manufacturing processes.

For the majority of attendees, MBE didn’t seem a big deal. Steve Williams, chief operating officer of Elson’s, said that in today’s climate, having MBE status might be good enough to get you in the door, but that a business must focus on solving problems for its customers. Elson’s CEO Andrew Jackson agreed, saying that he preferred being evaluated without reference to MBE criteria, citing MBE certification as a tool he used only when it benefitted his customer.

McNair offered perhaps the key takeaway from the session. “You can’t expect to grow without making an investment.”

After the session, attendees enjoyed a tour, with samples, of the Cleveland Whiskey plant on the first floor of the MAGNET facility.
Anthony Lockhart and Jason Estremera tour Cleveland Whiskey.

Acknowledging the importance of relationships in doing business, LCR’s Polk said that MAGNET would be hosting a follow up social gathering.

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* Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth NETwork