Emerald Transportation: Refrigerated vehicle specialists deliver safety and efficiency

GRIFFIN, Ga. — When the world shut down in March 2020, due to COVID-19, the owners of Emerald Transportation Solutions, a privately held, end-to-end manufacturer of refrigerated vans and trucks, thought their work would slow also.

How wrong they were.

Instead, as people all over the world stayed home and ordered groceries and other necessities to be delivered, the need for refrigerated last-mile delivery vehicles skyrocketed. Emerald’s vans and trucks became essential to getting groceries to people who didn’t want to leave their homes.

The company, founded in 2013, swelled to four facilities and two surface lots in Fayetteville, Georgia, but that created challenges and inefficiencies Emerald executives knew they would need to address to keep the momentum and growing market share. They contacted Georgia Oak Partners, an investment firm, about investing in the growing company.

Wes Funch, Emerald COO

When Georgia Oak realized Emerald didn’t have the expertise needed for the redesign, the firm connected Emerald with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) group was tapped to work on plant efficiency and optimization, and the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) team developed improved employee safeguards.

Unique Model

“We’re unique in a couple of ways,” said Wes Funsch, Emerald’s chief operating officer. “First, our trucks are lighter, so we allow more product in the truck. We run about 65% of the weight of most domestically built insulated products. Two, you call up and order a 17-foot truck that can hold zero degrees, and that’s what we deliver — custom built to your needs and specifications.”

The alternative model to Emerald’s process is more cumbersome. For that same 17-foot truck that holds zero degrees, a buyer must go to an automaker to find a chassis that can handle a 17-foot body. The buyer purchases it and sends it to a body manufacturer to build and install the 17-foot body. After that the buyer must contract with a refrigeration specialist to install a refrigeration system. And if there are any additional or special features required, those have to be project managed as well.

“With Emerald, you make one phone call, we do all of that for you, and we deliver the final truck,” Funsch said.

Trucks lined up for assembly in Emerald’s safer, more efficient plant

The company started almost literally in the founder’s basement, then expanded to four buildings in Fayetteville, where assembly took place. It was an inefficient way of operating — moving vehicles to and from different buildings as they were put together. Output stalled at fewer than two trucks — and often only one truck — completed each day. As business took off in 2020, leaders knew something had to change.

The search began for a single facility that would be large enough for a streamlined assembly process under one roof. An old, unused building in Griffin, Georgia, about 20 miles to the southeast, fit the bill.

Enter GaMEP

To ensure production could keep pace with rising demand, Emerald contacted the GaMEP for help in designing the workflow for the new facility. The company’s immediate goal: Complete three trucks per day. The longer-term goal was to build four to five trucks per day.

Sam Darwin, GaMEP operational excellence project manager

Sam Darwin, operational excellence project manager for GaMEP, came in to examine the layout and workflow in the four buildings, business operations, and sales growth projections. His job was to design a system in the new facility for optimum efficiency.

He spoke to employees, watched the way they moved back and forth in the old buildings, checked out the new larger building, and got to work. His layout eventually involved not just the facility and equipment; it also came to encompass the whole production system.

“We designed an assembly line, which is not what they were doing before,” Darwin said. “It was all single bay, bring this truck chassis in and start adding stuff to it. Then it would go to another building, and somebody did something else. It was extremely inefficient. The new assembly line — actually, a couple of different assembly lines — is a continuous flow.”

That means trucks are moved from station to station — not building to building — every four hours or so. “And, every day, you have a couple or three trucks coming out,” Darwin said. “It made them much more efficient and faster at building trucks.”

The design was nearly perfect right off the drawing board.

“Sam worked with the Emerald team and was able to develop a layout that we 90% follow today,” Funsch said.

Following the move, David Apple, GaMEP operational excellence project manager, visited Emerald to teach employees a problem-solving course – A3, a method for solving any challenges that might come up in the business. Using problems that Emerald had, he taught employees the step-by-step method for tackling and solving them.

Streamlining Information

Emerald leaders also realized that a streamlined system to track information that goes along with building vehicles – VIN numbers, orders, payments, and more – was essential as well. A series of spreadsheets had been used for tracking, which meant that in many cases, the same information had to be updated on multiple sheets by multiple people for every vehicle.

Kelley Hundt, GaMEP East Metro Atlanta region manager, worked with Emerald to resolve these data issues by helping to implement an enterprise resource planning system (ERP).

Kelley Hundt, GaMEP East Metro Atlanta region manager

“Going with an ERP system allowed them to have one data repository, with all of the data relating appropriately,” she said. “That reduced efforts to keep track of the information that they need, while at the same time improving the reliability and timeliness of that data.”

Health and Safety

Efficiency wasn’t the only goal of the move. The health and safety of employees in the new facility was paramount. Emerald brought in the SHES team to survey the facility and the company’s health and safety practices and make recommendations.

The SHES team looked at elements of Emerald’s overall safety and health management system, and started off with two essential questions:

    • How does the company anticipate and detect hazards?
    • How does the company prevent hazards and plan for and control hazards?

Challenges the SHES team identified during the inspections included electrical safety, fall protection, compressed gas cylinder safety, and clearing exit routes — issues that are common in manufacturing facilities.

The health team performed contaminant and noise-level monitoring. These were found to be within guidelines. They also examined Emerald’s hazard communication program, and other health and safety documentation.

Paul Schlumper, director of the SHES group

“There is an obligation on the part of the company to correct any serious hazards that we find,” said Paul Schlumper, director of the SHES group. “When we go in and work with a company, we’re going to write a report and have a list of things. If anything is classified as serious, they’re required to correct those items. We make sure they know that up front.”

The people at Emerald were prepared to do anything SHES recommended, Funsch said. “There are a lot of things that the SHES group pointed out as deficiencies that we’ve turned around and put into place to make the plant safer for our employees.”

The results of Emerald and SHES working together have been to create a safer workplace for all by:

    • Correcting electrical hazards, including open junction boxes
    • Adding restraints to keep employees from falling off ladders, trucks, and more
    • Adding an emergency action plan
    • Making Safety Data Sheets accessible
    • Holding monthly safety meetings
    • Tracking and documenting training
    • Adding an environmental health and safety manager

Thanks to its work with Georgia Tech, Emerald is an efficient, growing, and safe company. Emerald’s 65 employees now build three trucks or vans per day, up from one to one and a half. In 2023, the company projects throughput will average 75% more over 2022. And that’s just the beginning. The work Emerald has completed lays a foundation for greater expansion and a growing future.

“Hands down I would recommend the GaMEP and SHES groups,” Funsch said. “They were more forthright and helpful than anyone else we worked with. They got back with me in a timely fashion. They got back to me with a detailed response. They followed up. They gave the impression that they cared.”

Note: Emerald Transportation Solutions signed a waiver of the confidentiality clause (1908.6(h)(2)) for the OSHA 21(d) Consultation program, allowing this story about the company’s work with the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute to be published.

Bringing Entrepreneurship and Innovation Across Georgia

A study looks at ways to deliver innovation and entrepreneurial equity to the state

Living in metro Atlanta and working in the heart of Midtown’s Tech Square, it’s easy to assume that all of Georgia has the same innovation- and entrepreneur-based economic development ecosystem that exists in the state’s capital. And until now, there wasn’t any research to show exactly what the technology entrepreneurial landscape across the state looks like.

Paige Clayton, Ph.D., assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning, explored just that in an effort to form a baseline of information about innovation and entrepreneurship in the state and

develop a replicable method to analyze innovation activities over time with an eye for future areas of growth. Her research and recently released report, “Tracing Georgia’s Evolving Regional Innovation and Entrepreneurship Landscape,” were funded by the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), which is supported by Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Center of Innovation (COI).

Paige Clayton, assistant professor, School of City and Regional Planning

“I am interested in understanding how we can use innovation as a source of economic development both within and outside of major cities,” Clayton said. “Smaller, less dense areas often try to use the same types of economic development strategies as larger cities, but they don’t always seem to work as well. I’ve been motivated to try to understand places that have applied innovation-based economic development tools effectively outside major metropolitan areas to see what we can learn and apply to different areas in Georgia.”

It was a research idea right up the Partnership’s and the COI’s alley. The Partnership is a public-private organization launched in 2020 to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success.

Debra Lam, director, Partnership for Inclusive Innovation

“What’s really interesting about Dr. Clayton’s research is not only understanding Atlanta versus the rest of the state, but then digging deeper in terms of these regional innovation hubs across the state,” said Debra Lam, the executive director of the Partnership. “She’s also shown that what we hear about entrepreneurs leaving Georgia because there’s not enough venture capital for them to grow, isn’t entirely true. We are becoming a hub for inclusive innovation. Founders of color are coming in because they’re seeing this to be a welcoming, dynamic environment for them to grow their business.”

The COI, a strategic arm of the Georgia Department of Economic Development providing services and programs to help businesses around the state, also found the research important to its mission.

David Nuckolls, director, Georgia Center of Innovation

“In a lot of ways, the research validated what we already suspected,” said David Nuckolls, the COI’s executive director. “The entrepreneurship and innovation landscape has changed over the last few years and there is an even greater need for entrepreneurial and business support. Studies like this one illustrate current trend lines across the state and highlight opportunities to enhance existing efforts.”

Clayton and her team talked with people in economic development and entrepreneurship around the state about what they consider the strengths and weaknesses of their local ecosystems.

In Atlanta, strengths included:

    • Opportunities for Black founders
    • Georgia Tech
    • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
    • Involvement of corporate players
    • Growth in local venture capital funds

In Atlanta, challenges included:

    • Lack of connectivity and coordination of resources and support organizations
    • Lack of financial capital
    • Lower valuations and earlier exits than peer ecosystems
    • Founders program hopping rather than building firms
    • Difficulty finding life sciences mentors
    • Poor local transportation

Outside Atlanta, researchers explored ecosystems in Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah, and found several challenges to growing an innovation and entrepreneurial culture.

    • The slower pace of life in these areas may appeal to individuals who are not as interested in starting and operating their own businesses, especially those related to technology
    • How can communities achieve critical mass and develop the physical, intellectual, and social infrastructure needed to strengthen innovation?
    • More examples of success are needed, with lessons that can be applied broadly

Findings like these will be useful not to entrepreneurs themselves, but to economic developers around the state, Clayton said. “I think where it’s helpful is for people who are trying to foster an innovation or entrepreneurial ecosystem in their region. They can think about some of the assets they already have, because the paper shows some of that. And then, it could help them think about strategies beyond ‘if you build it, they will come’ type models for innovating.”

Jud Savelle, the ATDC @ Albany catalyst with the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Advanced Technology Development Center, is glad to see research like this and believes it can bolster innovation in areas like Albany.

Jud Savelle, ATDC @ Albany catalyst

“One of the conclusions that didn’t seem to surprise anyone was that a major challenge outside Atlanta — and particularly in a place like Albany, where there is no entrepreneurial or innovation ecosystem — is the lack of support and resources that could help to build a culture of innovation,” said Savelle, who works with technology entrepreneurs in the Albany area who are looking to create startups. “A major challenge for entrepreneurs who want to stay in their hometowns and grow a technology business or innovate in agriculture, is getting funding. There is also a lack of other support. If entrepreneurs who have a shot at success leave for the essential support that Atlanta can offer, then newcomers back in the towns across the state, don’t have mentors or peers to learn from and share information with.”

The report offers four recommendations to foster statewide innovation and entrepreneurship:

First, improve statewide coordination and connection. One way to do this is to create an annual Georgia Innovation Ecosystem Summit to bring together local ecosystem champions, investors, economic developers, and others who support entrepreneurs.

Savelle thinks this is the most important takeaway from the report. “We need to have better access to see into other communities, to see what they’re doing, and then to intentionally come together and better support each other in building out these ecosystems for the benefit of the whole state.”

Lam agrees. “This would provide Georgia a new gathering of entrepreneurs, economic developers, and researchers, where they are finding opportunities to collaborate.”

Second, the report recommends improving information availability and sharing stories more broadly so that regions can learn best practices and avoid unsuccessful strategies.

Third, build networks and think regionally. Efforts to support ecosystems outside Atlanta should be regional and more targeted to specific industry sectors. Enhancing regional social networks — the relationships and interactions between individuals involved in entrepreneurship and innovation — is vital.

Finally, enhance digital, financial, and business literacy. Technology-related innovation and entrepreneurship cannot occur without the basic education and technological needs of citizens being met.

“I don’t think every city and region of Georgia needs to be a technology entrepreneurship place,” Clayton said of her research. “I don’t think that’s reasonable or possible. But I do think the broader ideas of what being innovative is, of coming up with new solutions to problems, of having this sort of worldview that if there are problems, we can solve them and that process could lead to some economic benefit to where I live, I think that those kinds of ideas are important to have.”

And that’s really the bottom line of putting research like this into practice — how can it be used to better the lives of people around the state?

“Some of the entrepreneurs that are coming from regional innovation hubs, because of the connection with the community, because of the support they got from the community, they became more invested in the success of the community,” said Lam. “That’s exactly what we want. When we talk about building regional innovation hubs, it’s so that we can address some of the inequalities across the state.”

Open Hands, Open Hearts

A group from the Enterprise Innovation Institute recently volunteered at Open Hand Atlanta

On a recent Friday, a contingent of Enterprise Innovation Institute employees explored the idea of well-being at Open Hand Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that provides food for people with disabilities and chronic disease. Its mission: We cook. We deliver. We teach. We care.

The morning crew

The event was organized by the well-being committee, which has taken on the challenge of trying to bring people in the various programs in the Enterprise Innovation Institute together with events that strengthen the organization while improving the well-being of employees.

“Well-being is at the heart of what we as an economic development organization do every day,” said Caley Landau, a marketing strategist with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), who is on the well-being committee. “Our goal in our jobs is to make lives better and improve the human condition. Well-being improves employee engagement and experience, sparks creativity and collaboration, and helps us make the greatest impact possible through our programs. It’s also a philosophy that’s personally important to us as members of the community.”

The afternoon shift

Paul Todd, group manager for operational excellence with GaMEP, worked with Caley to find a team-strengthening activity.

“As part of our focus on well-being, Caley asked me to find a volunteer activity that would bring together employees from across EI² in the service of others,” Todd said. “I was familiar with Open Hand from a series of process improvement projects the GaMEP worked on there in years past, so I knew they had a great mission and a group volunteer program that would fit us well.”

Open Hand has been serving Atlantans for more than three decades. With a full commercial kitchen, staff and volunteers cook, pack, and deliver nutritious meals every day to medically fragile, underserved people, often seniors who live below the poverty line, and rely on the meals and the companionship of the people who deliver them.

In 2022, Open Hand cooked, packed, and delivered 5,000 meals per day, a total of nearly 1.5 million meals across the state, with more than 13,000 volunteer hours. Inflation and a growing need saw a 28% increase in food costs over the past two years. Open Hand’s monthly grocery bill last year was $327,525.

The approximately 30 volunteers from the Enterprise Innovation Institute put together almost 2,000 meals in an assembly line as organized and efficient as any in the for-profit world. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with new people for an important cause.

Increasing Expertise

The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Leigh Hopkins earns her Certified Economic Developer credential

Economic developers around the state, many with years of experience and expertise themselves, often hire the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) for assistance with workforce development, strategic planning, fiscal and economic impact analyses, and more. Now, when CEDR gets a call, the program will have one more resource to offer. Leigh Hopkins, senior project manager at CEDR, is a newly minted Certified Economic Developer (CEcD). It’s a national designation that’s been years in the making, and marks Hopkins as an authority in the field of economic development.

Leigh Hopkins, CEDR senior project manager

The credential wasn’t always her goal. “I’m a city planner by trade and education,” Hopkins said.

She completed a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech in 2005, then worked for the city of Atlanta as well as the private sector before coming back to her alma mater in 2008. After joining CEDR, she got her certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.

“I’ve held that certification ever since 2010, because it’s the industry credential for the planning profession, and I was hired here to work on projects with a planning component,” she said. “Over time, my job has morphed from planning, which can sometimes be idealistic, into economic development where the rubber meets the road in terms of helping communities implement their plans, but economic development wasn’t my area of expertise at first.”

As her role changed to include economic development-type work — strategic plans for communities and workforce development, primarily — she was encouraged to pursue the CEcD designation. It’s a journey that can take years and involves core classes central to the economic development field, at least four years of work experience, and a three-part comprehensive exam.

“When I started working at Georgia Tech, we had two senior managers who had their CEcD certifications,” Hopkins said. “They were mentors and encouraged us to participate in professional development courses. Georgia Tech is one of the host sites for courses offered by the International Economic Development Council, the accrediting body for the CEcD. I was encouraged to take their classes.”

To receive the certification, candidates must complete four required courses: Basic Economic Development, Business Retention and Expansion, Economic Development Credit Analysis, and Real Estate Development and Reuse. In addition, candidates choose two courses from a list of electives that include finance, marketing, small business development, and neighborhood development strategies. Hopkins selected economic development strategic planning and workforce development as her electives, since they are the areas she works in most often.

Her current boss, CEDR Director Alfie Meek, Ph.D., also supported her in getting the designation. “Our primary clients are the local economic developers around the state, many of whom have the CEcD certification themselves,” Meek said.  “As the ‘experts’ who are hired to provide advice and thought leadership to these communities, it gives us instant credibility and rapport with our clients if we have put in the hard work to achieve that same level of professional credential.”

Hopkins agrees that it’s hard work. In fact, only about one-third of those who take the exam pass it. She has some tips for people who are considering it.

    • Study the books. Much of the test is straight from those.
    • Take a prep course or two.
    • Practice writing the essays.
    • Learn the terminology.
    • Get a mentor or study buddy.

“Passing the exam shows that you have arrived in this field,” Hopkins said. “There are also good networking opportunities and good opportunities for professional development within the field.” And while the credential is significant to her, it’s more meaningful in the context of her job.

“It was important to have someone on our staff to get the certification, to add credibility to what we do and how we interact with our clients,” Hopkins said. “I think it gives our clients peace of mind. They feel that they’re in good hands with somebody who is accredited and well-versed in the economic development field.”

 

Intentional Leadership in the Enterprise Innovation Institute

Juli Golemi recently completed the Leading Women@Tech program

Diversity, equity, and inclusion can sometimes seem like catch phrases that organizations use, but don’t really follow through on. At Georgia Tech, the Leading Women@Tech program, which is housed in Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (IDEI), is proving that the Institute doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks the walk.

Juli Golemi, at the introduction of cohort six (Photo: Kemi Griffin, Kemi Griffin Photography)

Leading Women@Tech provides women with the opportunity and curriculum to strengthen their leadership abilities, enhance personal and professional growth, and support overall career development, while facilitating connections among women across campus.

“A leadership program is important for women because leadership can be lonely and isolating,” said Pearl Alexander, IDEI’s executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “And it’s probably one of the most challenging experiences that folks have. This investment helps support women in their career growth and advancement. A lot of programs are designed to grow skills. Ours is different in that we are seeking to help women increase their self-awareness. Any leader, male or female needs that. To be a really good leader, you have to know yourself well, know your strengths, your limitations, and possibilities.”

The development of women leaders has been shown to strengthen organizations and businesses, make them better places to work, and enhance the bottom line.

Juli Golemi, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s director of Innovation Ecosystems in the Economic Development Lab (EDL), recently completed the program as part of the sixth cohort of women leaders.

“I really liked that it was a diverse group of speakers and a diverse group of participants,” Golemi said. “We all came from different backgrounds, representing different units, and we brought our own experiences.”

That diversity is one of the ways a cohort is selected, Alexander said.

The women leaders of the sixth cohort (Photo: Kemi Griffin, Kemi Griffin Photography)

“We develop the cohort with a number of variables in mind including diversity in perspective,” she said. “A lot of the value of the cohort is they’re growing together, they’re learning, and everyone contributes from their experience, from their knowledge base. That really shapes the power of the experience. With Juli, she had experience with international studies. She studied at a European university, as well as domestically. She’s part of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, which is doing some very innovative things.”

The two-month program, which paused during the pandemic, roared back to life last fall with 26 participants from across the Georgia Tech campus. Leading Women@Tech launched in 2016 as a result of feedback from the 2012 Climate Assessment Survey, which revealed a desire for more mentoring and networking opportunities for women at Georgia Tech. Since its launch, more than 120 women have participated in the program. It is offered to women at the director level and nominations for the next cohort will open in April.

“Our primary target year over year has been women in that director-level role, because they are the ones who have significant influence in the organization,” Alexander said. “They are usually leading very impactful initiatives, and they’re in the middle in terms of their career trajectories. It’s a pivotal time in their careers.”

The fall 2022 program consisted of in-person and online leadership development, hands-on activities to assess the participants personal leadership styles, and stress relievers including meditation practice.

“The hands-on skill-building sessions in the areas of emotional intelligence and storytelling were the highlights of the program for me,” Golemi said. “We also focused on the practice of mindfulness.  A spiritual teacher guided the group though a couple of meditation sessions. The practical approach of the sessions, followed by stimulating discussions made it an exceptional learning experience.”

The cohort may have completed the active part of the program, but as participants, they are members for life, and will be invited back to future events and programs.

“The program underscored the importance of being a mindful and an intentional leader,” Golemi said. “I lead a very diverse team, so keeping that cultural aspect in mind is where the intentional leading comes in. This program has provided me with the tools and skills necessary to intentionally lead my very talented team in achieving excellence.”

Qcells Expansion Puts Focus on Georgia Tech’s iWorks Program

Offering connects employers and community leaders
with resources to drive economic development success

The good news: Northwest Georgia is slated to get a big economic development boost following a major announcement and planned company expansion that promises to create 3,500 new jobs. The challenge: In this still-tight job market, where’s a company to start?

When the company in question is Dalton-based solar-panel manufacturer Qcells, which has a 1,000-employee Dalton expansion set to begin manufacturing in August and a second expansion bringing 2,500 employees to Bartow County in 2024, a logical place to start is Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Specifically: iWorks.

The organization – technically named Igniting Workforce Opportunities and Reinforcing Knowledge and Skills – operates in Northwest Georgia and launched in 2017 out of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI). That initiative brought together the University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia, K-12 school systems in Georgia, and the private sector to help fill workforce gaps in high demand fields like advanced manufacturing in the northwest part of the state.

Leigh Hopkins, iWorks project manager and CEDR senior project manager

“We see ourselves in a facilitator role making connections,” said Leigh Hopkins, the iWorks project manager and senior project manager for Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR).

iWorks is a program of CEDR, which is housed in the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s comprehensive economic development unit. iWorks is able to connect the dots in Northwest Georgia because CEDR has been working on projects including strategic plans and workforce development there since 2012. For example, iWorks recently sponsored a job fair, where 106 people found employment, including several who went to work at Qcells.

“We also had a webinar in November called After the Ribbon Cutting, that addressed what happens after these big announcements like the one from Qcells are made,” Hopkins said. “How is the community supposed to find people to fill the jobs that are coming?”

It’s an important topic for the region of about 700,000 people, and just one reason the iWorks board includes representatives from local manufacturers such as Qcells, economic and workforce developers, technical college representatives, and others, who work in concert to help deliver a growing and educated workforce to the region. One key to ensuring that new industry and new expansions can be successful.

Candice McKie, CEDR project manager

“iWorks is a trusted partner and conduit in helping our member companies and organizations work together to address common issues,” said Candice McKie, CEDR project manager. “We have the ability to have all of the key players in one room to discuss some of the same shared workforce challenges, and to be able to relay that information to the development authorities, the chambers, and the school systems, instead of having to go to those groups individually.”

Lisa Nash, the senior director of human resources; environmental, health, and safety; and general affairs at Qcells, echoed McKie’s sentiments.

“Being a part of iWorks puts at my fingertips the tools that I need to understand the region,” Nash said, explaining why she is so committed to the organization’s mission. “As an HR professional in this labor market, I have to understand what everyone else is doing. I need to know what other company is expanding, what other company is maybe not doing so well, what’s going to impact our labor market, and what’s happening from a wage perspective.”

iWorks gives her a place to learn all of that in one monthly meeting.

“iWorks understands the industry and they understand this region, and the needs of the business leaders in order to be successful,” Nash said. “Being a part of iWorks gives me a bird’s eye view of what I need or what countermeasures I need to put in place to be prepared for obstacles or challenges.”

While iWorks is many things, it isn’t a problem solver, she said. “They give you the ideas and the connections for you to solve your problems, for you to be able to come up with resources, they connect you with so many resources.”

Some of those resources are the webinars iWorks has facilitated. In addition to After the Ribbon Cutting, the organization as focused on topics such as affordable housing, another key component of a successful workforce, and nontraditional hiring, which includes successful second-chance programs for people who have been released from prison.

“What we hear from manufacturers is that they’re beating their heads against the wall trying to find employees,” said Hopkins. “We’ve found that people who come from a second chance background, people who are really targeted with employment opportunities, are much more successful and the employers are better able to retain them than folks who just fill out an application.”

iWorks also puts together tours of manufacturing facilities, including Qcells, for area high school students, who may not know what they want to do after graduation. “Just getting exposure to industry has been very helpful for the students,” says Hopkins.

Other programs include Be Pro Be Proud, an initiative led by the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development that introduces high school students to a variety of industries through a hands-on mobile lab. iWorks sponsored the mobile workshop’s visits to 10 high schools across the region. “We had a total of 963 students visit the mobile workshop, and 86% of those signed up to receive information and career opportunities that are related to their industry of interest,” said McKie.

iWorks is also working to help expand Project Purpose, a summer program that connects high school students to companies in the area.

The goal of all these programs is to help local companies and those that are moving into the region find the well-trained workforce they need. And while the work just got 3,500 times harder, the iWorks board is excited about the expansion of Qcells.

John Zegers, iWorks board co-chair and GaMEP’s NW Georgia regional manager

“It’s important for our board to stay flexible and fluid,” said John Zegers, co-chair of the iWorks board and Northwest Georgia regional manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “That flexibility allows us to move where the need is and where the trends go. I think the makeup of our board is perfect for that, because we’re all on the front lines, we know what’s going on, and we’ll be able to keep our group relevant for what’s needed out there.”

Despite her extremely busy schedule as the Dalton expansion barrels toward August, Nash says she isn’t about to give up her seat on iWorks’ board.

“iWorks is committed to connecting education and the workforce so that we have a sustainable workforce for the future of manufacturing,” she said. “They’re starting younger and younger getting these kids interested in industry. I think iWorks does a really good job of balancing the current workforce and the future workforce.”

Learn more about the science of solar power and ways Georgia Tech researchers are helping build clean energy infrastructure in the state in $2.3B Qcells Solar Power Investment Holds Major Potential for Georgia.

 

Manufacturing Leaders

New executive coaching and team building services from the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership can help firms grow the leaders they need

When a program’s purpose is to help manufacturers improve their performance in the global market, it pays to be on the lookout for solutions to problems as they pop up. The latest solution is executive coaching and team building services from the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP).

Andy Helm, GaMEP senior project manager

“About four years ago, we were developing the organizational excellence assessment, where we would help companies see where their strengths are and where their shortcomings are,” said Andy Helm, a GaMEP senior project manager. “What we found on a regular basis, was that our clients rated themselves and we rated them fairly low in the leadership category. There was this ‘aha’ moment, where we realized if we’re going to help our companies, we need to be able to provide consulting services around leadership.”

This aha moment led GaMEP staff on a journey to evaluate different leadership development methodologies and devise a strategy that would make the most sense for their manufacturing clients.

“We found two education partners who generate, develop, and maintain leadership curriculum,” Helm said. “One is the Gallup organization. The other is Development Dimensions International (DDI). Both of those organizations have been around for decades, they’re research based, and very well respected. We sent a cohort of our employees to both of those companies to get certified as instructors. I’m a DDI certified instructor, and I’m also a Gallup certified coach.”

World-class leadership development combined with expertise in manufacturing, is what sets GaMEP’s training apart for manufacturers.

“Our value-added proposition for our clients is that we are now able to take best-in-class leadership development and combine that with our manufacturing expertise to provide a unique solution for manufacturers,” Helm said. “You can find various leadership services that are excellent, but they don’t have that manufacturing insight that we offer. On the other side, there are a lot of manufacturing experts, but not many of them could claim world-class leadership development offerings. We bring those worlds together.”

The programs offer training for all levels of leaders from frontline managers to the C-suite. HON, the office furniture manufacturer in Cedartown, Georgia, recently took advantage of the new offerings for some of the company’s leadership. The training was so helpful, HON has scheduled two more sessions.

“it’s helped our leaders to get on the same page of how we want to treat our members, how we want to build the culture here,” said Darrell Burns, the member and community relations manager at HON. “We had some of the senior leaders and some mid-level leaders to go through it.”

The feedback was excellent, Burns said. Participants called the program engaging, important, interesting, and even fun. The next sessions will involve both current and future leaders at the company.

“Some of the topics that we teach are communication, coaching, building and sustaining trust, and emotional intelligence,” said Helm.

Emotional intelligence — the ability to manage your own emotions as well as those of your team — is the foundation for much of the new training. Research shows that people with a high level of emotional intelligence are more confident and better able to lead their teams into greater productivity and job satisfaction.

In fact, studies have shown that “emotional intelligence is more important to your success at work than your IQ and your technical skills,” Helm said. “We teach techniques that move the needle.”

Another offering is the CliftonStrengths Assessment, which measures 34 different talents in the areas of strategic thinking, influencing, relationship building, and executing.

“The first benefit of the CliftonStrengths Assessment is self-awareness,” Helm said. “The further along we are in our careers, the fewer surprises we have. If you take this assessment when you’re 25 years into your career, you’re probably going to see a lot of confirmation and say, ‘oh, that makes sense. I agree with this and wish I would have known it sooner in my career.’ In contrast, think of two or three years into your career, you might not know what you wanted to do. This would have been an amazing tool to give you insight into some things that you might want to look into because you’re gifted in certain areas.”

Improving leadership can improve productivity, growth, and the bottom line for manufacturing firms and more. And now, GaMEP has the tools to help do just that.

Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership Receives EPA Pollution Prevention Grant

$350K grant to help Georgia manufacturers reduce pollution and increase efficiency and competitiveness

The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (GaMEP) mission is to enhance the global competitiveness of manufacturers in the state. A new $350,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will help the GaMEP — a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — do just that for food and beverage manufacturing and metal fabrication and manufacturing. The Pollution Prevention (P2) grant provides funds to train manufacturers in ways to stop pollution before it starts. The project will be a focus of the GaMEP’s Energy & Sustainability Services (ESS) team of engineers. Sandra Enciso, senior sustainability project manager, will lead the project team.

Sandra Enciso, GaMEP’s energy and sustainability project manager

A pollution prevention approach can reduce both financial and environmental costs of doing business. Key P2 practices include green substitution and improving efficiency, two areas firmly in GaMEP’s wheelhouse.

“A big practice is what we call a green substitution,” said Randy Green, GaMEP’s group manager for energy and sustainability. “Let’s say there’s a cleaner or disinfectant they use in the food industry or they’re using it to clean or prep metal. Helping them replace that with a biodegradable, environmentally friendly cleaner or solvent or solution can positively impact the environment.”

A second focus area is efficiency.

“If you can reduce the amount of raw material or other material that you throw away to make one product or reduce the energy it takes to make that product you have less environmental impact,” Green said.

Randy Green, GaMEP’s energy and sustainability group manager

The EPA has five manufacturing-focused national emphasis areas for the P2 program: food and beverage manufacturing and processing; chemical manufacturing, processing, and formulation; automotive manufacturing and maintenance; aerospace product and parts manufacturing and maintenance; and metal manufacturing and fabrication. GaMEP elected to focus on the two chosen emphasis areas for this grant because previous work the group has done in both industries provides insight into the P2 needs of these manufacturers in Georgia.

“We felt like we could have the biggest impact in these areas, because we have the largest potential base of clients,” Green said. And the first step is to reach out to that client base, he added.

“Our first efforts will really be outreach, trying to identify who has expressed interest in participating in this program with us and then to look at where they’re located so we can create some synergy in cohorts,” Green said.

The group will also be trying to reach communities that have suffered environmental injustice.

“The most polluted areas in the country tend to also be in the areas of greater poverty,” Green said. “People in lower income groups are exposed to more toxins and more pollution than people who live in more expensive areas. We must cross-identify where these manufacturers exist in the communities that have the greatest need for pollution reduction.”

Forming groups of manufacturers focused on P2 also helps to ensure the work continues. Green calls it a form of positive peer pressure.

“We can meet as a group and create some collective momentum for doing this, so that people aren’t working on things like this alone,” he said. “I like the analogy of school. If you get your kids in the right peer group, the peer group will create a certain amount of pressure for grades or performance or other things that you’re trying to achieve. It creates some efficiencies, too. We can go once into the region and invite everybody to come together and share information.”

But efficiencies for GaMEP staff aren’t the only benefit — or even the most important one. The benefits to the companies themselves are far greater.

“The general result of P2 work is reduced cost,” Green said. “Manufacturers can also get out of having to keep permits with EPA because they’ve replaced the hazardous chemical with something they don’t have to report. So, there can be fewer issues and costs associated with environmental compliance and better performance.”

It’s important that manufacturers understand the benefits of participation, he said, because it isn’t always clear that there’s an upside to environmental work.

“The EPA has an enforcement component, a little bit like the IRS,” Green said. “They can show up and really cause a lot of grief for a business. But in general, in this program, the EPA is really focused on creating a positive outcome for industry. They recognize that we need jobs, we need manufacturing. But we need them to be as environmentally friendly as they can be.”

Learn more about the Pollution Prevention Cohort Program here.

Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Donna Ennis to Co-lead GA-AIM Project

Long-time Georgia MBDA Business Center director to focus on building community engagement to support artificial intelligence in manufacturing effort

When the Georgia Institute of Technology received a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in September 2022, it was clear that changes would have to be made to support the huge grant.

Donna Ennis, co-lead of GA-AIM

One top-level change involves Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., who led the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Georgia Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center for 18 years. Now, Ennis will co-direct the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Technology Corridor (GA-AIM), as it implements nine projects around the state that are funded by the record-shattering grant. Aaron Stebner, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering will co-direct GA-AIM with Ennis, and Thomas R. Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute will serve as advisor to the project.

GA-AIM will support a statewide initiative to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach. The grant will increase job and wage opportunities in distressed and rural communities and among historically underrepresented and underserved people. The focus on artificial intelligence in manufacturing is interesting to Ennis, who, as the leader of the Georgia MBDA Business Center, launched a national summit for minority-owned manufacturing enterprises in 2016.

“I thought that was an underserved and overlooked area in the minority business community,” she said about the start of the National MBE Manufacturers Summit. “It’s the only summit of its kind. Minority manufacturers and corporations come for matchmaking meetings, education, and to experience new technology.”

Her experience with minority communities, which was recently honored by the Greater South Fulton Chamber of Commerce with its Partnership Award, also dovetails well with her new position, which will focus on community engagement.

“I was focused on minority businesses for years,” Ennis said. “But we have other communities that also need to be served. I’m excited about being able to work with all of our programs within the Enterprise Innovation Institute and some that are not in our group, to figure out how we engage communities from K to gray.”

With so many different audiences and communities to engage, Ennis is charged with creating opportunities that lead to meaningful connections that will truly get folks involved and wanting to participate.

“Donna’s experience building community for the Georgia MBDA Business Center and her knowledge of manufacturing in Georgia made her the obvious choice to co-lead GA-AIM,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “This project is an important step in the equitable development and deployment of innovation and talent in the state. I’m excited to see her moving the project forward for Georgians.”

Ennis’s first mission is to develop a community engagement model that will be used around the state from Atlanta to Augusta to Macon to Southwest Georgia to bring businesses, communities, and people on board. She anticipates a model that can then be replicated for other projects in the future. And that’s just the beginning.

“We’re very entrepreneurial at the Enterprise Innovation Institute,” Ennis said about her enthusiasm for this new project. “We like making something from nothing, and GA-AIM is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase our innovative thinking.”

Engage Celebrates 10th Cohort of Entrepreneurs

Five years after its founding, the first-of-its-kind
innovation program is still going strong

Engage celebrated two milestones – five years since its founding and the introduction of the 10th cohort of enterprise technology startups – in October with its Executive Reception. The reception, held at Cox Enterprises, featured close to 300 people including executives from Fortune 500 companies, startup founders, and investors.

Engage began in 2017 as the first-of-its-kind collaborative innovation program and venture fund to connect startups with leading corporations. It’s a formula that still works today, with active involvement from corporate behemoths including Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, Invesco, and others that are giving tech entrepreneurs a place at the table.

Discussion by Engage founders, from left, Blake Patton, Marty Flanagan, and G.P. “Bud” Peterson, moderated by Metro Atlanta Chamber President and CEO Katie Kirkpatrick.

To kick off the event, Engage founders and board members Marty Flanagan, president and CEO of Invesco, G.P. “Bud” Peterson, president emeritus of Georgia Tech, and Blake Patton, managing partner of Tech Square Ventures, discussed the program’s origin and the way they deliberately set out to meet the needs of both the tech startups and the corporate community.

“What startups really need is access to customers and markets,” said Patton. “And so that’s what we built the concept of Engage around.”

And the corporations, what do they need that Engage can offer?

They need new ideas and the nimbleness of startups. “I think Engage has done a very nice job of identifying the innovation needs of the companies that are participating and then matching that with the entrepreneurs who are being creative and innovative in the community,” said Patton.

Since its founding, Engage has mentored and invested in 10 startup cohorts, a total of 75 companies. Its portfolio companies have inked 116 customer contracts signed with corporate partners. Engage startups have raised more than $2.7 billion in capital after graduating from the program and employ more than 3,000.

Rachel Carpenter, co-founder and CEO of Intrinio, a financial technology startup from the second Engage cohort, hosted a discussion about enterprise data transformation and ways startups can work with major corporations on that, with Donie Lochan, the managing director, chief technology officer, and global head of technology for Invesco, and Chuck Adkins, senior vice president of information technology at Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).

Keynote speaker Alex Taylor, chair and CEO of Cox Enterprises and Engage Board member, discussed the ways Cox is working with startups. The company has signed 12 contracts with Engage startups, including one with Engage graduate Help Lightning to solve a problem brought on by the pandemic.

“Cox Communications has millions of customers around the country,” Taylor said, explaining that technicians of his company’s cable subsidiary could not go to customers’ homes during the pandemic. In normal times, customers would buy the hardware from Cox and install the television modems and other devices with the technicians’ help.

Now, packets are being sent remotely.

“Not a lot of these people are trained engineers, so they don’t often do it right. When there’s problems, we can’t go into their homes and help them,” Taylor said.

Cox worked with Help Lightning, an Engage portfolio company that uses augmented reality video that enables the cable company to better serve its customers — during the pandemic through today.

“It’s a field services tool. A field services tech is out front of a customer’s home with an iPad. There’s a visual interface, and the customer is holding up the phone, showing the technician what they’re looking at,” Taylor said. “The technician is walking the customer through a two-way interaction when they can’t physically be present.”

Following Taylor, Nammy Vedire, Engage’s director of platform and operations, announced the recipient of the Executive Champion Award, given to corporate partners who exemplify and help accomplish Engage’s mission. The award was presented to Jaimie Clark, head of innovation at Catalyst by Wellstar and the director of innovation and venture strategy for Wellstar Health System.

“Jaimie met with several of our corporate executive teams, understood best practices, and incorporated them into the WellStar Catalyst program, which is this conduit to bring innovation to every corner of the Wellstar Health System,” Vedire said. “In doing so, in the last 12 months, Jaimie has helped five of our startups sign pilots, of which three have now converted to multi-year contracts. That’s an incredible effort.”

Daley Ervin, Engage’s managing director, who was celebrating his last Engage cohort before leaving the position, was also presented with an award to mark his service with Engage since 2018.

To wrap up the evening, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens — a Georgia Tech alum — spoke about his commitment to the city’s tech startup ecosystem. To illustrate the importance of the community, he introduced the city of Atlanta’s first Senior Technology Advisor Donald Beamer.  “He will be an ambassador for this ecosystem that helped catapult Atlanta. He will lift up the startup community and be able to answer the questions of venture capitalists,” Dickens said.

Founders of the cohort 10 companies.

Engage’s cohort 10 companies include:

  • Civic Eagle: Gives policy professionals the tools to more effectively monitor, report, and collaborate on policy work.
  • Coginiti: A collaborative intelligence company that democratizes access to data, fosters collaboration, and supports building, reusing, and sharing data and analytic assets.
  • Manifest Climate: Provides businesses with the tools, data, and support they need to identify climate risks and opportunities, track trends, and build competency around climate action.
  • NameCoach: Uses artificial intelligence-enabled software to solve one problem that can help businesses promote inclusion, belonging, and rapport — name mispronunciation.
  • Qualytics: Delivers confidence in data with real-time automated anomaly detection and remediation to help improve the accuracy of enterprise decision making.
  • Tribute: A micro-mentorship platform enhances team collaboration, learning, and productivity in hybrid workplaces.
  • Workera: This skills intelligence platform is redefining how enterprises understand, develop, and mobilize talent to drive innovation.
  • Wripple: An agency services platform that matches enterprises to individual freelancers and project teams.

About Engage

Engage is a first-of-its-kind innovation platform comprising category-leading corporations in the Southeast that have joined forces to support startups building the future of enterprise. Engage is designed to promote innovation through a network of connections between startups, corporations, university researchers, and the venture community.

Engage’s corporate partners include Chick-fil-A, The Coca-Cola Company, Cox Enterprises, Delta Air Lines, Georgia-Pacific, Georgia Power Foundation, Georgia Tech, Goldman Sachs, The Home Depot, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), Inspire Brands, Invesco, Invest Georgia, UPS, and Wellstar Health System. These corporate partners, along with Tech Square Ventures and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), provide tools, hands-on support, and resources that help startups develop go-to-market strategies, open doors faster, and transform strategies into action. For more information, visit engage.vc.