Savannah Congressman Tours Georgia Tech’s Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility

Visit includes overview of Georgia AIM project

When U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter from Georgia’s 1st District visited Atlanta recently, one of his top priorities was meeting with the experts at Georgia Tech’s 20,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility (AMPF).

Carter was recently named the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair of the Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials Subcommittee, a group that concerns itself primarily with contamination of soil, air, noise, and water, as well as emergency environmental response, whether physical or cybersecurity.

Because AMPF’s focus dovetails with subcommittee interests, the facility was a fitting stop for Carter, who was welcomed for an afternoon tour and series of live demonstrations. Programs within Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — specifically the Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM) and Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) — were well represented.

“Innovation is extremely important,” Carter said during his April 1 visit. “In order to handle some of our problems, we’ve got to have adaptation, mitigation, and innovation. I’ve always said that the greatest innovators, the greatest scientists in the world, are right here in the United States. I’m so proud of Georgia Tech and what they do for our state and for our nation.”

Three people in a room
Michael Barker (right), GaMEP project manager for cybersecurity, strategy, and leadership development, speaks as U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (left) and Andrew Krejci (center), another GaMEP project manager, listen. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Carter’s AMPF visit began with an introduction by Tom Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute; Steven Ferguson, principal research scientist and managing director at Georgia AIM; research engineer Kyle Saleeby; and Donna Ennis, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s director of community engagement and program development, and co-director of Georgia AIM.

Ennis provided an overview of Georgia AIM, while Ferguson spoke on the Manufacturing 4.0 Consortium and Kurfess detailed the AMPF origin story, before introducing four live demonstrations.

The first of these featured Chuck Easley, Professor of the Practice in the Scheller College of Business, who elaborated on supply chain issues. Afterward Alan Burl of EPICS: Enhanced Preparation for Intelligent Cybermanufacturing Systems and mechanical engineer Melissa Foley led a brief information session on hybrid turbine blade repair.

Finally, GaMEP project manager Michael Barker expounded on GaMEP’s cybersecurity services, and Deryk Stoops of Central Georgia Technical College detailed the Georgia AIM-sponsored AI robotics training program at the Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource (VECTR) Center, which offers training and assistance to those making the transition from military to civilian life.

The topic of artificial intelligence, in all its subtlety and nuance, was of particular interest to Carter.

“AI is the buzz in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Whether it be healthcare, energy [or] science, we on the Energy and Commerce Committee look at it from a sense [that there’s] a very delicate balance, and we understand the responsibility. But we want to try to benefit from this as much as we can.”

He continued: “I heard something today I haven’t heard before, and that is instead of calling it artificial intelligence, we refer to it as ‘augmented intelligence.’ I think that’s a great term, and certainly something I’m going to take back to Washington with me.”

Said Ennis, “It was a pleasure to host Rep. Carter for a firsthand look at AMPF, which is uniquely positioned to offer businesses the opportunity to collaborate with Georgia Tech researchers and students and to hear about Georgia AIM.”

She added, “At Georgia AIM, we’re committed to making the state a leader in artificial intelligence-assisted manufacturing, and we’re grateful for Congressman Carter’s interest and support of our efforts.”

Finding Purpose and a Career After High School

Northwest Georgia initiative helps high school seniors not going
to college get 
prepared for professional opportunities and jobs

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — As a newly minted graduate of Cass High School, Zak Gibson could be forgiven if he didn’t exactly have the next phase of his life figured out just yet.

But now, Gibson, a warehouse technician at NOTS Logistics in Cartersville credits his career trajectory and increased sense of motivation to Project Purpose, a program that shows graduating high school seniors opportunities they have to maximize their potential if they choose a path other than college.

“Project Purpose helped me realize who I am as a person. It molded me into a more mature adult than I thought I was,” Zak said. “One thing that I did learn was no matter who you are, what you’ve been through — you do have a purpose and you can do anything you want to. You just have to set your mind to it.”

For employer participants, finding students like Zak allows them to work with students, invest in their professional futures, and build up pipelines of potential employees from the local community who can fill open jobs.

A program of iWORKS Northwest Georgia, in partnership with Worksource Georgia, Project Purpose launched in Bartow County in 2022, and expanded to Polk and Whitfield counties in 2023. In that two-year period, the program has worked with 35 students, Zak among them.

As designed, participants engage in a series of hands-on courses including résumé preparation, essential skills, workplace safety, and financial literacy, among other abilities they are taught to master. The program, which runs from 10 days to two weeks, includes classroom instruction, as well as on-site visits and training with potential employers.

It’s an offshoot of years of work of coordinated efforts at the regional, state, and federal levels to address the manufacturing needs of the 15-county region that is  northwest Georgia, said John Zegers, who is iWORKS co-chairman and the northwest Georgia region manager with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

“We are experiencing tremendous growth in the manufacturing sector in northwest Georgia,” Zegers said, noting Bartow County alone expects an influx of 4,000 new jobs in the next two years. There’s already low unemployment, so that, coupled with the expected bonanza of jobs means the region is facing an urgent workforce shortage, he said.

“Forty-eight percent of graduating high school students in our region will not immediately go to college — that equates to roughly 4,000 students per year,” Zegers said. “Our manufacturers are ready to train young adults who have the motivation. This program benefits industry, the local community and most importantly the young adults we are setting up for success.”

GaMEP, along with the Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR), another program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, have been working on northwest Georgia’s high-demand career initiative since 2014.

iWORKS is comprised of industry, workforce development and economic development experts, K-12 and post-secondary, community nonprofits, and economic development representatives. It was formed to help the region create and implement a strategy to draw those jobs — and fill them, said Leigh Hopkins, CEDR senior project manager and member of iWORKS’ leadership team.

“Manufacturing is the top industry sector in northwest Georgia, and they need workers desperately. iWORKS makes connections between the needs of employers and regional training resources across the region to create jobs and generate investment,” Hopkins said.

“When industries see industry-led coalitions like iWORKS, they know that they’re being supported and heard and that’s an important aspect in business retention and expansion, which is one of the main pillars in economic development.”

Project Purpose is just one of the many iWORKS efforts aimed at addressing those workforce needs, she added, noting one major goal is to expand it to all 15 counties in the region.

Courtney Laird, a recruiter with Shaw Industries — a flooring conglomerate and one of the region’s major employers — said Project Purpose is a worthwhile economic development initiative both for industry and personal growth of workforce newcomers.

“This very beneficial to the organization and industry — more importantly for the students to provide a leg up in their career for their future,” she said.

Jacob Herron, a 2022 Project Purpose graduate, and an extrusion associate with Shaw Industries, agreed with those sentiments. “The most valuable take-away for me was the communications skills,” he said. “How to communicate with your teammates, how to get along with them to work better together.”

It also gave him a boost in self-assurance, he said.

“I had a lot of self-confidence issues,” Jacob said. “The program helped me build up my self-confidence and allowed me to do more things.”

Interested in learning more about Project Purpose or know a northwest Georgia high school senior who might be good fit for the 2024 cohort? Please contact Leigh Hopkins: leigh.hopkins@gatech.edu or John Zegers: john.zegers@innovate.gatech.edu.

GaMEP and Partners Show West Georgia Students Career Possibilities in Manufacturing

LAGRANGE, Ga. — Manufacturing is one of the most important sectors in Georgia’s economy.

The industry generated $64.9 billion in total output in 2021, up 36% from $47.5 billion in 2011, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. The industry employs 402,000 with average annual compensation $75,511.

Despite growth, students in middle and high school still see manufacturing as dull and dingy and reminiscent of old textile mills plants.

It’s why the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) and the Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, partnered with several organizations in LaGrange to show students what modern manufacturing is all about.

The event, which also included the Development Authority of LaGrange, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, and the West Georgia Technical College as partners, was tied to October 6 — National Manufacturing Day.

The goal was to showcase the wide range of opportunities in today’s advanced manufacturing, which still includes textiles and mills, but also pharmaceuticals and medicine, aerospace, food, and supplies, among other industries.

The more than 1,300 middle and high school-aged students who attended were able to meet with local industry partners such as Duracell and Mountville Mills, participate in hands-on demos of manufacturing technology, and learn about available training programs and educational opportunities.

They also participated in an interactive coding activity with Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), as part of the Georgia AIM initiative. That program seeks to revolutionize Georgia the industrial economy of Georgia through the development and deployment of talent and innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) for all manufacturing sectors.

GaMEP also featured Manufacturing x Digital‘s cyber box to show students how the right technology can prevent cyber attacks.

“Today’s technology is unbelievable,” said Scott Malone, president of the the Development Authority of LaGrange. “It’s really helping these kids, these young adults understand this is the future of what workforce is about. There’s lots of opportunity in manfacturing.”

EI2 Programs Help Keep Georgia Businesses Lean and Healthy

by Jerry Grillo

Trey Sawyers, Katie Hines, and Sean Castillo are helping keep Georgia businesses lean and safe. (Photo: Jerry Grillo)

Sean Castillo is in the win-win business. As an industrial hygienist in the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), his job is to ensure that employees are safe in their workspaces, and when he does that, he simultaneously improves a company’s performance.

That’s been a theme for Castillo and his colleagues in the Safety, Health, Environmental Services (SHES) program and their partners in the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), part of EI2’s suite of programs aimed at helping Georgia businesses thrive.

“A healthier workforce is healthy for business,” said Castillo, part of the SHES team of consultants who often work closely with their GaMEP counterparts to improve safety while also maximizing productivity.

This team of experts from EI2 assist companies trying to reach that critical intersection of both, combining smart ergonomics and safety enhancements with lean manufacturing practices. This can solve human performance gaps due to fatigue, heat, or some other environmental stressor, while helping businesses continue to improve their production processes and, ultimately, their bottom line.

These stressors cost U.S. industry billions of dollars each year — fatigue, for example, is responsible for about $136 billion in lost productivity.

“Protecting your employee — investing in safety now — saves a lot of money later,” Castillo said. “It equates to less money spent on workers compensation and less employee turnover, which means less time training new employees, and that ideally leads to a more efficient process in the workplace.”

It takes careful and intentional collaboration to bring those moving pieces together, and inextricably linked programs like SHES and GaMEP can help orchestrate all of that.

Ensuring Safe Workspaces

SHES is staffed by safety consultants, like Castillo, who provide a free and essential service to Georgia businesses. They help companies ensure that they meet or exceed the standards set by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), mainly through SHES’ flagship OSHA 21(d) Consultation Program.

“Our job is to ensure that workspaces and processes are designed so that anybody can perform the work safely,” said Trey Sawyers, a safety, health, and ergonomics consultant on the SHES team, aiding small and mid-sized businesses in Georgia. When a company reaches out to SHES to apply for the free, confidential OSHA consultation program, a consultant like Sawyers gets assigned to the task, “based on our area of expertise,” said Sawyers, an expert in ergonomics, which is the science of designing and adapting a workspace to efficiently suit the physical and mental needs and limitations of workers.

“If a company is having ergonomic issues — maybe they’re experiencing a lot of strains and sprains — then I might get the call because of my knowledge and understanding of anthropometry, and then I’ll go take a close look at the facility,” Sawyers said. Anthropometry is the scientific study of a human’s size, form, and functional capacity.

SHES consultants can identify potential workplace hazards, provide guidance on how to comply with OSHA standards, and establish or improve safety and health programs in the company.

“The caveat is the company has to correct any serious hazards that we find,” said Castillo, who visits a wide range of workspaces in his role. For instance, his job will take him to construction and manufacturing sites, gun ranges, even office settings. “We do noise and air monitoring at all different types of workplaces. I was at a primary care clinic the other day. And over the past few years, we’ve had a significant emphasis on stone fabricators, looking for overexposures to respirable crystalline silica.”

Silica, which is dust residue from the process of creating marble and quartz slabs, can lead to a lung disease called silicosis. OSHA established new limits that cut the permissible exposure limits in half, and that has kept the SHES consultants busy as Georgia manufacturers try to achieve and maintain compliance.

Keeping Companies Cool

Another area of growing emphasis for Georgia Tech’s consultants is heat-related stress in the workplace.

“Currently, there are no standards to address this,” Castillo said. “For example, there are no rules that say a construction site worker should drink this much water. There are suggested guidelines and emphasis programs for inspections for targeted industries where heat stress may be prevalent — but no standards, though that is coming.”

The SHES team is trying to stay ahead of what will likely be new federal rules for heat mitigation. To help develop safe standards and better understand the effects of heat on workers, consultants like Castillo are going to construction sites, plant nurseries, and warehouses, and enlisting volunteers in field studies. Using heat stress monitor armbands, they’re monitoring data on workers’ core body temperatures and heart rates.

“These tools are great because we’re not only gathering some good data, but we can use them proactively to prevent heat events such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which can be fatal if left untreated,” Castillo said.

To further help educate Georgia companies about the risks of heat-related problems, SHES applied for and recently won a Susan Harwood Training Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The $160,000 award will support SHES consultants’ efforts to further their work in heat stress education so that “companies and workers will understand the warning signs and the potential effects of heat stress, and how they can stay safe,” Castillo said. “We’re sure this will all become part of OSHA standards eventually, and we’d like to help our clients stay ahead of the curve to protect their employees.”

OSHA standards are the law, and while larger corporations routinely hire consulting firms to keep them on the straight and narrow, SHES is providing the same level of expertise for its smaller business clients for free. Most of those clients apply for help through SHES’ online request form. And others find the help they need through the guidance of process improvement specialist Katie Hines and her colleagues in GaMEP.

Lean and Safe

Hines came to her appreciation of ergonomics naturally. After graduating from Auburn University, she entered the workforce as a manufacturing engineer for a building materials company, where “it was just part of our day-to-day work life in that manufacturing environment, on the production floor,” she said.

It took grad school and a deeper focus on lean and continuous improvement processes to formalize that appreciation.

While working toward her master’s degree in chemical engineering at Auburn, Hines earned a certificate in occupational safety and ergonomics (like Sawyers, her SHES colleague). At the same time, Hines was helping to guide her company’s lean and continuous improvement program. And when she joined Proctor and Gamble after completing her degree, “The lean concept and safety best practices were fully ingrained, part of the daily discussion there,” she said.

All those hands-on manufacturing production floor experiences managing people and systems prepared Hines well for her current role as a project manager on GaMEP’s Operational Excellence team, where her focus is entirely on lean and continuous improvement work — that is, helping companies reduce waste and improve production while also enhancing safety and ergonomics.

Hines uses her expertise in knowing how manufacturing processes and people should look when everyone is safe and also productive. She can walk into a GaMEP client’s facility and drive the process improvements and solutions that will help them achieve a leaner, more efficient form of production. And then, when she sees the need, Hines will recommend the client contact SHES, “the people who have their fingers on the data and the expertise to improve safety.”

These were concepts that, for a long time, seemed to be working against each other — the very idea of maximizing production and improving profits while also emphasizing worker safety and comfort.

“But you can have both,” Castillo said. “You should have both.”

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.

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.

Georgia-AIM Hosts Kick-Off Meeting

Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia-AIM) recently held its initial kick-off meeting in October 2022.

Over a two-day period, more than 100 participants from across the state came to Atlanta to brainstorm, collaborate, and share best practices as the group launched its effort in earnest following its winning of a $65 million award from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) in September.

Led by the Georgia Institute of Technology and a coalition of private and public partners across the state, Georgia-AIM seeks to reimagine job opportunities and wage growth in economically distressed and underserved rural parts of Georgia by melding artificial intelligence (AI) with manufacturing, an all-too-important segment of the state’s economy. Manufacturing’s economic impact to the state exceeds $60 billion a year and it employs more than 400,000, Georgia Department of Economic Development figures show.

The goal is to develop new opportunities through outreach programs designed to create a transformational Georgia workforce that will embrace artificial intelligence not be mystified or afraid of it, said Donna Ennis, director of Diversity Engagement and Program Development in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and also director of its Georgia MBDA Business Center. Ennis is leading the effort along with Aaron Stebner, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering, and Thomas R. Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute.

A large part of the the Georgia-AIM effort, which is also focused on serving historically underrepresented and underserved groups, is getting people to understand artificial intelligence goes beyond robots and that it’s not about taking jobs away, but leveraging this ever-evolving technology to create the jobs of the future, Ennis said.

AI is already an integral part of daily life from smart homes and cars to cities and mobile devices, she said.

“We want to demystify what it is,” she said. “We want to be able to show you that there is a place for you in the artificial intelligence world, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing.”

Kick-off event attendees were able to network and get more in-depth presentations regarding the various projects under the Georgia-AIM umbrella. The projects include building automation solutions tailored for rural manufacturers, industry pilot trials, workforce training for AI manufacturing technologies, prototyping labs and studios, curriculum development for K-12 students, and an virtual reality training innovation lab.

In addition to Georgia Tech, the coalition of 12 public-private partners includes:

·       Georgia Department of Community Affairs

·       Georgia Cyber Center

·       Houston County Development Authority

·       KITTLabs

·       Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs

·       Robins Air Force Base 21st Century Partnership

·       Spelman College

·       Southwest Georgia Regional Commission

·       Technologists of Color

·       Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative

·       Technical College System of Georgia

·       University of Georgia

U.S. Department of Agriculture Awards Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership Grant to Address Food Safety

Grant to be used to train food and beverage entrepreneurs in underserved communities in best practices

The pandemic upended the food and beverage industries in ways that are just coming to light, such as the destruction of the peer and mentoring networks new entrepreneurs rely on to learn how to grow their businesses from basement to production.

To help rebuild those essential learning networks and revive some of the training they once offered, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded a three-year, $550,000 grant to Georgia Tech’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP).

GaMEP, housed in the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, will train food industry entrepreneurs in Georgia and the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico in food safety practices and regulations. The grant funding will also be used to train the trainers, which will help rebuild those critical networks.

This is the largest sponsored grant the Enterprise Innovation Institute has received from USDA, marking the importance of the food sector in Georgia.

“The food manufacturing industry is a focus area for GaMEP, as it is the largest manufacturing industry sector in Georgia,” said GaMEP Director Tim Israel. “We have increased our food-industry specific services significantly over the past five years, and this grant will allow us to expand our reach to serve more small and underserved companies to coach them on safe and efficient production processes that will help them grow.”

Expanding GaMEP’s reach to minority and underserved populations is an essential element of the grant.

“The purpose of this grant is to provide free — and this was really important to us — free food-safety training,” said Wendy White, industry manager, food safety and quality, at GaMEP and grant manager. “We’re also coupling that with business development training.”

The training will be focused on entrepreneurs in underserved communities in metro Atlanta, Middle and South Georgia, and Puerto Rico, all areas that have experienced a lot of growth in the food sector.

“Puerto Rico has this amazing cultural heritage around food. Because it is an island, they have concerns about food sovereignty — that is, making enough food to support themselves,” said Brandy Nagel, co-manager on the grant and program manager in the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center at the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “Part of why we’re including Puerto Rico in this grant is to build capacity on the island for food entrepreneurs to be safe and to scale up their businesses so that they can be successful and profitable.”

Grant partners Fort Valley State University, in Middle Georgia, and PRiMEX, the MEP center in Puerto Rico, will work with GaMEP to reach entrepreneurs in their regions.

The grant also includes funding for capacity building, in the form of train-the-trainer education in the three regions. “Our trainers will continue to disseminate this information to their communities after we’re gone,” White said. “What’s exciting about that is that it will continue to have impact for years to come as more entrepreneurs get this training, which will only serve to strengthen the ecosystem.”

Learn more about GaMEP’s commitment to food manufacturing companies in minority and underserved communities in this video.

About the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP)
The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech is a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, whose purpose is to help manufacturers improve their performance in the global market. GaMEP offers coaching and training in operational excellence, technology implementation, leadership and strategy, marketing, energy management, and sustainability, to manufacturers across the state to help increase top-line growth, reduce bottom-line costs, and boost the economic well-being of Georgia. GaMEP is part of the MEP National Network, a unique public-private partnership that delivers comprehensive, proven solutions to U.S. manufacturers, fueling growth and advancing U.S. manufacturing. To learn more, visit gamep.org.

About the Georgia MBDA Business Center
As part of a national network of 64 centers and special projects funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), the Georgia MBDA Business Center helps minority business enterprises (MBEs) obtain capital, access markets and business opportunities domestically and globally, increase profitability, and scale operations. By providing technical assistance, coaching, education, and contacts, the center has helped MBEs create more than 7,000 jobs, and achieve nearly $6.4 billion in contracts and finance, while remaining competitive economic engines in their respective markets. To learn more, visit georgiambdabusinesscenter.org

About the Enterprise Innovation Institute
The Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s economic development unit, serves all of Georgia through a variety of services and programs that build and scale startups, grow business enterprises, and energize ecosystem builders. As the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based economic development organization, the Institute’s expertise and reach are global; its innovation, entrepreneurship, and ecosystem development programs serve governments, universities, nonprofits, and other organizations worldwide. In 2021, the Enterprise Innovation Institute served more than 15,500 businesses, communities, and entrepreneurs. Those clients reported startup investment capital exceeding $1.1 billion and creating or saving more than 11,300 jobs. The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s total 2021 financial impact exceeded $2.9 billion. Learn more at innovate.gatech.edu.