Mike Beck, plant manager of Ethicon's Cornelia, Ga. facility, keeps employees focused on what's important; helping doctors help patients. Photo courtesy of Johnson&Johnson

Georgia's Commitment to Manufacturing Keeps Ethicon Expanding in State

Jan. 2, 2014
Georgia helps keep manufacturing strong through its 'pro-business' environment.

Commitment best describes the philosophy at Ethicon’s Cornelia, Ga. plant and ultimately its success.

-Commitment to the state of Georgia where it has been operating for over 65 years and last year announced another expansion.

-Commitment to its workforce offering personalized career path planning.

-Commitment to the quality of the products it produces.

-And commitment to the improvement of the overall environment for U.S. manufacturing through its involvement with both educational institutions and the Georgia Manufacturing Association.

 “As a manufacturer we need to get the word out that manufacturing in the U.S is still a viable industry and we must attract young people to this field,” explains Mike Beck, plant manager at the Cornelia, Ga. facility which manufacture sutures. This plant provides the raw materials for the majority of new products produced by all Ethicon plants.  Ethicon is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Beck devotes his time and energy making sure that both his plant and the industry in general have well-trained workers. He recently spoke at North Georgia Technical College forum that brought together K-12 educators, superintendents of schools, technical colleges and industry representative to make sure that all parties were involved in creating a viable pipeline for manufacturing. 

Ethicon partners with local trade schools, technical colleges and universities such as Georgia Institute of Technology and Clemson University. They provide internships and co-ops for students and have found that bringing in students during the college years can lead to full-time employees after graduation.

Once inside the plant, on an annual basis, employees explore their career paths. This includes obtaining the skills they need to move up in the organization both at the plant and across the entire network of Ethicon and J&J. 

The focus on developing talent could explain why the retention rate in the state, where J&J and its subsidiaries employ 1000, is so high. The average service at the Cornelia plant is 15 years. “We have very low turnover," says Beck. “However when some of the people at the plant are promoted and move to other parts of the organization we are very proud of them.”

The state of Georgia also helps keep manufacturing strong through its “pro-business” environment, according to Beck. Part of the reason for this is the strength of the Georgia Manufacturing Association, of which Ethicon is an industry partner.

Recently the association helped secure the elimination of sales tax on energy used in manufacturing. “Eliminating the 4% sales tax and the 2% local tax, over the next 4 years will save the manufacturing community over $250 million per year,” said Roy Bowen, president of the association since 1984.

Other legislation, passed a few years ago, eliminates sales tax for machinery and equipment. “Under the Integrated Plant Theory, everything within the four walls of the plant is exempted,” explains Bower. “The favorable tax laws are a large part of the tremendous growth in manufacturing in Georgia.”

These supportive operating environment encourage expansion. Last year Ethicon announced it would invest $185 million through 2016 to both make capital improvements at the Cornelia plant as well as add a new plant in Athens, Georgia. The new facility is being constructed on the current site of Ethicon’s sister company, Noramco, Inc.  which has operated the Athens facility since 1981 and manufactures pharmaceutical ingredients used in medications and medical devices.

The ability to expand is very important to the Cornelia plant as its achievement in continuous improvement with regard to manufacturing excellence makes it an important part of the Ethicon network. In fact the plant has won a number of award including the highest level of ‘integration' in the Lean Maturity Assessment level. They have also received the highest level of ‘performer’ in the Manufacturing Equipment Excellence (ME2) level.

Ethicon currently produces the majority of the world’s supply of surgical sutures. And this responsibility is top and center of mind for all employees.   “Many of the people who work here at the plant do so for a reason,” Beck said in J&J’s annual report.  “They know the important role we have to help deliver safe products to doctors and surgeons. That’s what we are focused on—helping doctors help patients."

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