By: Brendan Landry Issue: Global Trade Section: Jewel Of Collaboration
Creating and Saving U.S. Jobs
After I sat down with Edvard Hag, Director of the Rocky Mountain Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (RMTAAC), I ran a bit of an informal experiment. Sitting at my desk, I began thinking about the origin of all the trinkets, office supplies, and various other clutter that surrounded me. To be honest, I’m not certain how all of this stuff got on my desk, let alone where it originally came from, but here are the stats for all the items currently within arms reach:
One spiral-bound day planner - Printed in China
One heavy-duty paper clip - Made in China
One Stevie Wonder-spewing iPod - Assembled in China
One standard keyboard - Product of China
One gigantic, inflatable, St. Patrick’s Day themed cooler (don’t ask) - Made in China
One ceramic bowl - China
Accompanying spoon - China
Two miniature Irish flags - China
One shiny staple remover - Made in China
This list doesn’t include my surprising Swedish stapler or the fortune I have taped to my desk pad, which was given to me by a colleague but I assume came from China, or at the very least, a local Chinese restaurant.
The results of my experiment are a microcosm of the very purpose that RMTAAC exists to serve. Now, fundamentally, is there anything wrong with China…or Sweden for that matter? No, I’ve read up extensively on both countries, and they both have loads of good to contribute to our global community, I assure you. But the issue at hand, as I stare down at my previously uncounted shoes (Made in China), is if all the things around me are manufactured somewhere else, what happens to the shoe manufacturer trying to make a living down the street?
An independent non-profit organization funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, RMTAAC provides Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to the seven state Rocky Mountain Region, including Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.
“The goal of our program,” says Hag, “is to increase the competitiveness of U.S. firms.”
TAA offers financial and technical assistance to firms negatively affected by foreign competition. The program, as Hag says, “…aims to make businesses leaner and meaner,” through access to quality outside consultants and federal funding to offset up to 50% of the costs of making the necessary improvements.
Typically, eligible firms have been in business for 2-3 years, have 100 or more employees, and generate annual sales of between $1 and $200 million.
To qualify, firms must be able to show losses in both sales and employment due to the inability to compete with cheaper, faster foreign-based firms.
RMTAAC works directly with the firm to identify problem areas and develop an action plan to address the issues. These projects are designed to streamline or improve processes and procedures that are central to the success of the firm, and commonly target problems in sales and marketing, manufacturing technology, IT, engineering, and financial and general management. The firm is then paired with a qualified, often pre-screened, consultant who works with the firm to implement the action plan. The firm is responsible for covering half of the total cost of the project. The remaining 50% is covered through grant funding from RMTAAC.
When asked about the most common problem seen across RMTAAC’s client base, Hag reported that many of the firms deal with an inability to bring the product to the market. “For some,” Hag says, “simply having a product is enough to get people to buy it. They don’t think they have to market it.” That is simply not the case in this increasingly global economy; many qualifying firms suffer not only from ineffective or non-existent marketing, but also from lagging performance in new product development. RMTAAC combines expertise, discipline, and grant funding to save U.S. jobs and make it possible for firms to survive and thrive in the global economy.
So what are the results of RMTAAC’s work? In a typical year, firms receiving TAA reach employment and revenue growth that exceed industry averages. Among the hundreds of firms in the Rocky Mountain region that have received TAA, average sales growth is nearly 50% and the average increase in employment is 25%. Hag is careful to point out that this is anything but a typical year, and although numbers are down due to our current economic situation, he is still seeing substantial growth in both jobs created and revenue generated.
RMTAAC has a lengthy list of industries, ranging from aerospace to sporting goods, which have benefited from Trade Adjustment Assistance, and they have had plenty of success to boast about. With the help of RMTAAC, an Englewood-based clothing manufacturer successfully implemented a $500,000 Enterprise Resource Planning software system that streamlined several aspects of the company’s operations. The result of the project was a $5.6 million increase in sales and a 20% jump in employment over a two-year period.
Meanwhile in Longmont, a custom electrical cable manufacturer utilized TAA funding to train and certify production workers on standard industry practices. The firm received additional support to implement an inventory software system to ensure that critical components are always readily available. These projects have helped the firm achieve a two-year sales growth of $3.3 million while increasing employment by 50%. And all the way up in West Fargo, ND, a manufacturer of agricultural equipment received $60,000 in assistance to improve the efficiency of its manufacturing process. Since the improvements were put in place nearly five years ago, the firm has doubled both its sales and employment. These are just a few examples of the huge impact that RMTAAC has on employment and business growth in the Rocky Mountain region; and with more funding in the pipeline through the stimulus package and an expansion of the scope of work into service-based firms, such as call centers and software developers, it seems the RMTAAC’s reach will continue to grow.
As evidenced by the random contents of my desk, there is a certain ubiquitous nature to the MADE IN CHINA insignia; and it serves as a clear reminder of the reality faced by small businesses everywhere. Long gone are the days of competing with just your neighboring businesses. Convenience is no longer just a matter of physical location. Business is a global competition, and RMTAAC is putting lean mean U.S.-based firms into the mix.
To learn more about RMTAAC, visit www.rmtaac.org or contact them directly at (800) 677-3791. For more information on the 10 other Regional TAA providers, visit www.taacenters.org.