As inaugural events go last week’s Northern Colorado Manufacturing Trade Show (NoCOM) was a rousing success. Organizers say 600 people attended NoCOM, including representatives from nearly 60 exhibitors.
Paul Harter, CEO of Aqua-Hot and the event’s high-energy director, said the event also met its objectives. “The response and energy at the show told me that we hit on exactly what these manufacturers were looking for,” Harter wrote to me. “The point of this show was to better connect the region’s manufacturing community. Before the show was even over, I had exhibitors and sponsors telling me to count them in for next year.”
NoCom’s the latest in a series of regional Colorado events held within the last year to better connect manufacturers and promote the sector. A southern Colorado version - SoCOM - was the model for the northern version and will happen again this fall. The Western Colorado Manufacturing Association, now CAMA West, hosted its second annual expo and conference last month.
The push to bring manufacturers together reflects growing optimism but also real demand for qualified contract manufacturers and supply-chain partners. Across industries, business is improving. Colorado’s aerospace, food and beverage, medical, and ag-tech sectors, to name four, are fast-growth sectors. And I’ve heard more than one manufacturer say reshoring is finally producing tangible orders.
But manufacturing continues to lag in public perception and support. Part of it is employment: companies are doing more with less - technology is improving productivity. Manufacturing’s growing but employment is not.
There's also a lack of consensus among economic developers and industry about how best to support the sector’s growth. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) identifies ‘Advanced Manufacturing’ as a key industry sector but doesn’t confer similar status to food and beverage or consumer manufacturing.
For their part manufacturers seem more comfortable operating within the silos that shaped opportunity a generation ago. The SoCom, NoCom and CAMA West exhibitor pools were comprised primarily of industrial, contract manufacturers. Food, beverage, and consumer manufacturers are largely absent (kudos to Palisade’s Talon Wine Brands for representing at CAMA West). So far, the events are developing along established industry boundaries.
But companies benefit when sectors convene. We've seen it out our events. Some are searching for new supply-chain partners or contract manufacturers and most make new and useful connections at cross-industry events. Workforce, finance, and regulation are common challenges; some are managing better than others and have lessons to share. Best practices are emerging from fast-growing sectors that would benefit most all manufacturers.
Its time to look at how the various entities that support manufacturing should partner with business to promote the entire sector in a more cohesive way.