CAMA was developed and funded by OEDIT to do what CAMT wasn't, leading to Confusion Around Manufacturing Acronyms that today is more a humorous sidebar to the evolution of Colorado's official manufacturing trade association. (We could go on: CAMT, the erstwhile Colorado Association of Manufacturing Technology -- now Manufacturer's Edge -- was neither an association nor dealt with technology.)
Paul Harter, president and CEO of Aqua-Hot and chairman-elect of CAMA's board of directors, is bemused with the naming convention. "I think we should consider dropping the 'advanced' and leaving it at Colorado Manufacturing Alliance," he told me, half in jest, referring to the second letter in CAMA's name that still causes some headaches for the association. He's serious though in his reasoning. "We need to drop the exclusionary language that works to keep this community apart and do everything we can to bring it together."
It's this mindset, shared by the new CAMA board chair Brian Burney, CEO of La Junta standout Oliver Manufacturing, that assures many industry stakeholders that CAMA is catching its wind after a couple of tumultuous years. I recently spoke with Burney and Harter to discuss CAMA's direction and objectives.
"We're a startup organization, still," Burney admits. "We've been in an evolutionary state and to some degree haven't yet set a clear strategy . . . but we have to keep asking, 'How do we energize manufacturers across the four corners of this state?' CAMA has to have as much benefit for rural companies as it does for those in urban areas."
It's Harter's calling card. "We have to link manufacturers together, even share spaces where we can. It's a new way of thinking about manufacturing. I'm going to look outside my industry, to food and beverage, to cut and sew, to learn and add value to my business. They're producing as well!" he exclaims, echoing similar themes touched on regularly in this column. "It's blocking and tackling. FourFront is only one means to an end," he says, referencing the federally-funded initiative that's become CAMA's primary focus, "and we need to make sure there are other tools in the toolbox."
FourFront, formerly SMART, provided CAMA much-needed resources and a mission: identify manufacturers who stand to suffer from defense-industry budget cuts, develop infrastructure and systems to retrain and retool operations to improve competitiveness, and leverage the investment across manufacturing to the betterment of the sector.
Again, after a somewhat rocky start, the program seems to be on more solid footing. (Here's an overview.) Yet Burney echoes Harter's sentiments that FourFront is one tool -- not the endgame -- in advancing manufacturing. "The project is a means to pursue the objectives of the Blueprint (OEDIT's guiding economic development document), certainly an important one as it created a funding mechanism," he says. "FourFront also helps us connect with other national resources that we need to increase our competitiveness."
Burney's unambiguous about manufacturing's competitive challenge. "We are resource constrained, and a lot of things have to be done," he states flatly. "Nobody's working on the problem of 'what are we doing from a resource level?' Colorado as a whole has tapped and nurtured an entrepreneurial spirit, but connecting manufacturers with current resources is something that's not being focused on."
The honest assessment, from both men, is refreshing. That we've triangulated a conversation from Castle Rock, with Harter in Frederick and Burney in La Junta, is also promising for a sector that must tap energy and innovation from the entire region and not just Denver to be successful on a global stage.
But the promise of a more connected, synergistic manufacturing sector with CAMA at its center remains just that to a large degree. The organization is still challenged to widen its view outside the lens of its own operations. ForeFront, in particular, has relegated 'rebranding' and other early CAMA objectives to the backburner. CAMA also lacks mindshare among lifestyle and consumer manufacturers, or significant representation in Colorado's incredible natural products community.
It's a reality not lost on Burney or Harter. I ask if CAMA just needed to grow up a bit to find a new, more connected place within a broadening manufacturing economy. "I think there's a lot to that," Harter says, and Burney reinforces the notion, confident that FourFront will connect manufacturers in diverse industries by exposing them to "globally competitive ideas" -- regardless of what the community is called.
Bart Taylor is founder and publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.