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CompanyWeek Q&A: Glenn Plagens, CEO of Manufacturer's Edge

By Bart Taylor | Jul 25, 2022

Colorado

As the national conversation around manufacturing has gained steam, so too has the Department of Commerce's NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership network enjoyed a much-deserved lift. NIST MEP centers, one per state, support local and regional manufacturing in a variety of ways, with costs partially offset by federal funding. Small and middle-market companies benefit most, and for that reason alone, the network is a gem.

According to NIST, "MEP Centers interacted with 34,307 manufacturers, leading to $14.4 billion in sales, $1.5 billion in cost savings, $5.2 billion in new client investments, and helped create or retain 125,746 jobs."

If MEPs across the country share a common mission, they're also somewhat diverse in how they go about serving manufacturing communities. We caught up with Glenn Plagens, CEO of Colorado MEP Manufacturer's Edge, for an update on how his organization is aligning with challenges and needs in the market.

CompanyWeek: Glenn, we last connected at the Colorado Manufacturing Awards as you were just getting underway as CEO. What's the report six months in?

Glenn Plagens: I took the CEO position at Manufacturer's Edge because I saw so much potential in the organization -- already a great performing organization that definitely had the potential to grow and scale, and six months in, I feel the same way. Every time I turn around there's more opportunity for us as an organization -- not just to do things as we did in the past, but really doubling down and going further for our clients.

My main focus is adding clients, helping more manufacturing organizations in the state. That will always remain the focus of Manufacturer's Edge, but there are other things we're going to do, above and beyond what we're already doing, and what we've been traditionally known for that manufacturers are really going to start to take notice of over next six months to a year -- even beyond that as we push out our scope.

One of the things, when we look at our team, is that we're really well rounded -- and -- we have added the right people to expand what we're doing. That's basically the last six months of where we've been. Obviously, for me, there's been a lot of learning, getting familiar with the national network, getting familiar with the team and really starting to focus in on what our strategy is moving forward.

CW: You've teased a lot of changes there. Sounds like the company will be expanding its services. At the same time will you be going to market differently than you do today?

GP: I think traditionally, if you were going to look at Manufacturer's Edge, a lot of clients look at us as a training organization, and we're not a training organization. We do train, but we're a consulting organization, and that changes our position in the marketplace quite a bit, because that really provides for the white-glove treatment that we want to give our clients, where we can be the resource for them to come and really grow their business and really sit down and be serious about their businesses. With some of our enhanced services, there are other things we're going to build around that -- like workforce development tools, supply-chain tools, and programming.

The other thing we're going to lean into as an organization in the coming year is helping manufacturers really make sense of getting access to capital. That's something that's needed in the marketplace, and something that can be a barrier to growth for a manufacturing organization. That also happens to be an area of my expertise, and actually today I had a meeting about access to capital and helping a client with that paradigm.

Also, we're connected to the national [MEP] network, and the national network is getting a lot of news now relating to workforce and supply-chain issues that our manufacturers are experiencing. There's a back and forth going in D.C. now on how to best support the Manufacturers Extension Partner system -- but I'm sure they'll sort it out. The latest things we've seen have been very favorable, so hopefully in the next three to six months we'll have more news on that -- which will support things that we're already starting to build -- like our supply-chain and workforce initiatives.

The other thing we're doing, is we're looking at Manufacturer's Edge as an economic development organization. We bring a lot of jobs, and a lot of power to the state of Colorado, through the amount of jobs we create and the amount of jobs we support through our activities. Really being that connector, being at the larger table for our manufacturing community, we're going to tease that out a bit more. In my first six months, we've doubled the size of our board, and we're going to continue to grow our board to support that economic development goal. It's at the heart of every MEP and something I'm pretty passionate about as well because it's really important to the state of Colorado. As we know, manufacturing has over a $25 billion impact. And we play a big role in that.

CW: So if you're not a training organization, how would you sum up an outcome for a manufacturer you're working with? For example, we think one goal of the manufacturing ecosystem should be to help suppliers be more competitive, to compete on a global scale with operations and workforce. Does the notion of "supplier development" resonate with you at all?

GP: That's front and center for us and every MEP. You know, one of the reasons we partner so closely with World Trade Center Denver, is because you are on the world stage. As a manufacturer in the state of Colorado, sometimes that's hard to wrap your head around! But at the same time, that's something that we're hyper-focused on, along with the other things that we can help your business model along with.

It's very, very difficult being a business owner, owning a manufacturing facility at this particular time. What we do by looking at ourselves as more than just a training organization and more of a consulting firm -- with a more holistic look at the company -- is to help them on multiple fronts. We're not just looking at the back of the house anymore -- the manufacturing org -- we're looking at the front of the house. We're going to look at the entire business and offer support and resources for that entire organization.

As a company, I think in two years, you're going to look back at Manufacturer's Edge and see a different organization.

CW: Can you assess where the community is today? What should the goal and objectives of this ecosystem be? Where are we today as a manufacturing community -- and where do we need to go?

GP: I think it's just further coming together -- community players coming together again to determine what the next steps are. That's one of the reasons we're building out our board of directors, because we really see them as part of our organization at play in that space. Our manufacturers need to be advocated for, but they also need to have the resources they need to grow, and that's where we come in. We're going to have a seat at the community table, but at the same time we're going to focus on getting them the resources they need.

CW: Lastly, you have a great seat at the national table. Can you be more specific about what you're hearing in the MEP national network?

GP: The conversations are mostly about supply chain and workforce. Working with our federal partners, it's really about what that programming looks like and how we come together as a network. There's a big emphasis on the national stage of coming together as a network, not acting as Colorado or California or Texas alone, it's acting together as a network to start developing tools and resources.

We have a new national director -- Pravina Raghavan -- and she's doing a great job of leading us in that way. What I've always learned from my background in economic development and my time at OEDIT is that you change and start to be more effective and efficient as you share things. So what you're going to start to see are some national movements to support our MEPs around supply chains and workforce. What's happening at the national level will give us way more horsepower once we launch our initiatives.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Email him at btaylor@companyweek.com.