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Recap: Inaugural Manufacturing Growth and Investor Conference

On July 27, this first-of-its-kind event brought together a broad swath of financial professionals and manufacturers in a half day event that covered issues ranging from workforce development to reshoring to innovation in the supply chain -- and of course the whole gamut of financing options.

Panel #1: State of MFG -- Opportunities & Trends (Moderator: Bart Taylor of CompanyWeek)

"The U.S. is still seen as a manufacturing powerhouse," said Noel Ginsburg, founder and CEO of Denver's Intertech Plastics.

But there are problems, and they tend to be more educational than economic. He just returned from a trip to Switzerland to look at the country's vocational programs. "We're not graduating the people we need with the skills we need to run our factories. In the depths of the recession, we had 600,000 manufacturing jobs unfilled."

"We're perceived as we're losing our edge," Ginsburg said. "Americans are hard workers, but since we don't have a system in place to train them, we're falling behind."

And it didn't happen overnight. "When we sent out jobs over to China, we sent something else: Our technology and our innovation."

RK Mechanical COO Jon Kinning echoed these sentiments. "Workforce development is a huge issue. Everybody in this room, it's our fault, and now we're playing catch-up."

"You compete with people in Asia. They don't go home Friday at 3 o'clock," added Frank Caris, CEO of Colorado Springs-based dPix. "This is hard work."

Frank Caris, Todd Dutkin

But Ginsburg was quick to point out that he does more volume with less people as of 2015. "The jobs we have are high skill and high paying," he explained.

Manufacturer's Edge CEO Tom Bugnitz stressed the importance of innovation in the supply chain. "What are we all going to do to strengthen the supply chain?"

He called communication a key. "It has to do with building long-term relationships with suppliers," he said.

There's a huge opportunity to keep it local, Bugnitz added. "People are starting to look a lot closer to home. It cuts down a lot of costs and it's real nice to go down the street and discuss things with the engineer."

"In Colorado, we have a lot of small and medium-sized companies growing very fast in value-add manufacturing," said Caris, noting that other sectors could use to emulate military and defense. "We keep the value chain close to the vest, the government plays a very active role in it, like it or not, and it works."

But manufacturing is a big tent. The dynamics in medical devices are unlike those in aerospace, or craft brewing, or natural foods.

"Food is a real interesting sector," said Fresca Foods CEO Todd Dutkin, calling the Front Range "the Silicon Valley of food." And it's inherently local: "Most of us are buying U.S. products to feed our families. . . . We're seeing exponential growth year after year."

Dutkin says the "passing of the torch from Baby Boomers to Millennials" has sparked the food business. "I truly believe we're living in a phenomenal age. You have this incredible energy. We're seeing large companies wanting to work with small companies in order to drive innovation across the entire manufacturing platform."

But it takes money to do it. With this being an investor conference, the panelists offered a few thoughts on financing.

"In the 35 years I've been in this business, I've used every source of funding besides private equity to keep the company growing," said Ginsburg. "I think you have to look at what stage your business is in and decide what type of funding is best."

Added Dutkin: "Find a really good banking relationship. That's been really critical with Fresca."

(First of a two-part series. Next week: State of lending and investing and creative financing for growth companies.)

Jon Kinning, Noel Ginsurg, Frank Caris