You could argue that CAMA -- the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association -- was kneecapped before it got started.
The association was formed just before I launched CompanyWeek in 2013. I said this in an August, 2014 column, "Change at Colorado's OEDIT an opportunity to upgrade Hick's Blueprint":
"OEDIT prioritized manufacturing by establishing CAMA -- the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance -- at a time when confidence in the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, then CAMT and now Manufacturer's Edge, had waned. CAMA's now an important advocate for regional manufacturing. Manufacturer's Edge has also benefited, free from obligations of a trade association to operate true to its federal charter as a service provider to industry."
I also thought the new association held promise to cut through the confusion around the Blueprint’s 14 Key Industries. "Advanced Manufacturing" -- CAMA’s namesake -- was labeled a Key Industry, even though it's not an industry, and most Colorado manufacturers weren't "advanced" at all, as much they aspired to be. For me, the upgrade to the Blueprint was that CAMA would build a true statewide, industry-wide, coalition of manufacturers -- including low-tech producers in Colorado's high-growth industries.
The model that made most sense to me was one in place across the U.S., then and now. CAMA would represent a cross-section of manufacturing interests as the state lobbyist for manufacturing, and from this clear mission grow and develop, much like CMTA in Sacramento, UMA in Salt Lake City, and TMA in Austin.
That didn't happen. I'm sure that CAMA architects Ken Lund and Noel Ginsburg had good reason.
One explanation is that Chuck Berry, the influential CEO of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, was already doing it. Berry had assembled a powerful but small group of manufacturers -- blue chippers like Reynolds Aluminum and Ball Corporation -- in a manufacturer's council. Whatever the reason, the model prevailed.
In my opinion, it's not the best approach. CACI lobbies for multiple industries and sectors, on issues important to business. They do great work. But the most effective way to strengthen Colorado manufacturing and compete on a national level is to have the industry trade association working the statehouse, in a coordinated manner, around issues important to manufacturing. More, CAMA and Colorado are at a disadvantage without the alignment.
Timing may be on CAMA's side. Chuck Berry is retiring. CACI will have a new CEO.
CAMA and OEDIT must seize the moment and work with CACI's new leadership to effect a change that benefits both entities.
The Polis administration can also leave its mark on Colorado manufacturing with a sector "blueprint" of its own. I'm rooting for the following:
Relaunch CAMA along with the clear and exclusive mission of lobbyist for Colorado manufacturing. Require more transparency and accountability.
Establish a new Advanced Industries grant program for consumer brands including the outdoor industry. This was articulated clearly by local manufacturers to leaders of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in a meeting I hosted in August. In a manufacturing ecosystem of small businesses, companies are desperate for new technology and need help in acquiring it. Rama Harris' AI grant program is so important. It should be expanded.
Update the current blueprint: Colorado's spectacular food and food manufacturing sector is a Key Industry, fully independent of Agriculture. Outdoor Recreation is more -- it's Outdoor Industry. And what of manufacturing's Enabling Technologies?
Embrace the cannabis sector to create a new manufacturing workforce. I've heard manufacturing leaders say they don't "support marijuana." Wishing cannabis would go away isn't a responsible policy position. Hundreds of Colorado young people are today cannabis manufacturing employees. Let's keep these kids in manufacturing by providing alternative industry career paths, if they choose, that leverage their experience. Manufacturing is desperate for their services. Celebrating, not vilifying, their chosen industry, is a first step.
Other ideas? Send them to me. We'll provide the platform to showcase a wave of modern thinking around the sector.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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