In some ways, the semiconductor that sits in a display case at a new showroom in Cleveland’s Galleria is a more fitting emblem for this region than the foreign-made clothing that occupied this space when it was a high-end shopping mall.
Despite all the ink spilled over manufacturing job loss, Ohio’s economy is still dominated by the production of products. The manufacturing process is more streamlined, more technological, but items like the ones in this case, not the foreign-made clothing that it replaced, are still the bedrock of Northeast Ohio’s economy.
Lindsey Frick, 25, and her collaborators in the new Manufacturing Mart at the Galleria recognize that. Their mission is to help Ohio manufacturers compete in an increasingly globalized world. The display space they’ve rented to Cleveland’s Darrah Electric symbolizes their broader vision to revive domestic manufacturing.
The Mart will operate as a “permanent tradeshow” for Ohio manufacturers, displaying wares like Darrah’s for potential buyers. But, in addition to display space, staff will offer marketing, public relations, lead generation, supply-chain and logistical assistance. They will serve inventors as well, helping connect them with manufacturers and design services that can help bring their product to market.
All of this is aimed at connecting local manufacturers to domestic firms that demand their products. Ohio Manufacturers still have a lot to offer, but the world has changed around them, says Frick. Where many of the state’s manufacturing firms once relied on a couple large clients—many of them automakers—now they must be adaptive and business savvy in order to survive in an increasingly competitive Global marketplace.
“There’s over 20,000 manufacturers in Ohio,” said Frick. “There’s no reason that something that’s made in China shouldn’t be made here.”
Firms that purchase products from China might not be aware that the items are available domestically, perhaps even at competitive prices. In order to compete with foreign manufacturers, Northeast Ohio firms must make themselves known to buyers.
Much of the assistance local manufacturers require is in realm of marketing and development—areas where many small firms, who relied on a small handful of regular, large clients, are struggling.
“They’re not at trade shows. It’s hard to find them … on the web. They don’t have the sales capacity.”
Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to be bullish on Ohio manufacturing, purveyors of the Manufacturing Mart say. Ohio manufacturers can compete with the Chinese in terms of quality, without question. But domestic firms also have a logistical advantage over overseas competitors. That’s not to mention excess manufacturing capital. Northeast Ohio flows over with excess manufacturing capacity.
Frick, herself, in some ways embodies the dichotomy between the “old” and “new” economy in which Northeast Ohio precariously teeters. A mechanical engineer who earned her degree at Cleveland State University, for years Frick has owned and operated a one-woman product development firm called Product Tree, based in Tremont.
She was recently promoted to a partner at the Mart, joining manufacturing veterans Mary Kaye Denning and Pamela M. Holmes, who between them boast 60 years of industry experience. The team also includes employees with expertise in process engineering, logistics and business development. Eschewing the non-profit model, the Mart intends to operate as a business, earning revenue from display fees and contract services.
The Mart’s first client, Richard’s Grinding, added four employees within the first few months it began its relationship with the Manufacturing Mart, Frick said. The Manufacturing Mart will focus on smaller firms like this one, which lack marketing arms and haven’t developed a sophisticated system for lead generation.
The first item to be displayed on the mart’s shelves at the Gallaria provides an offbeat example of how local manufacturing firms can retool themselves to cope with a changing landscape. An aquarium-like object, reinforced with steel on the edges and a steel-mesh top, it was filled with wood-chips—the perfect home for a pet snake.
Manufacturing firm Saint Catherine’s Metal Works started producing the contraptions when the loss of a major client opened up production space this year. With a little innovation, however, the same processes employed to build heavy machinery, were easily adapted to build this specialty house ware.
That’s the type of adaptation many manufacturers will have to make in Ohio to replace some of the business lost by autos, said Frick.
“The manufacturers in this area sustain themselves for many years with only a few clients. Unfortunately, a lot of them were auto,” said Frick. “So they needed to look for new jobs.”
Thanks to the Manufacturing Mart, for the first time, buyers will be able to search for Northeast Ohio manufacturers, as well.