Rust Belt Manufacturing & Starbucks: What They Must Have in Common

July 13, 2011
Manufacturing employers must take the 'Starbucks approach' to recruiting top talent and thus achieving success.

Note: Denning will speak on the Starbucks approach to success at the Precision Metalforming Association Marketing and Sales Conference, which will be held August 24 and 25 in Chicago.

All indicators point toward a strong resurgence in domestic production of components and products, and this could happily support the Rust Belt's global prominence in the manufacturing industry. More importantly, this trend is already creating a wealth of new industry-related jobs in the region.

One glitch, though, according to a recent article in the Washington Post: The pay for these jobs stinks.

"Assembly-line workers who will be making the EdenPure products under the auspices of Suarez Corp. Industries (North Canton, Ohio) will start at $7.50 an hour," the article reads. "That's a far cry from the $20 an hour that most workers made with Hoover, which shifted its century-old production lines (from North Canton) to Mexico and El Paso in 2007 after concluding that it was too expensive to make its products in the industrial Midwest."

Wait a minute: So, we are still considered the industrial heart of the country, but we're not paying our skilled workers an hourly wage that reflects the current cost of living? What's the incentive, then, for members of the workforce to consider a manufacturing job?

An attitude change is in order, and it must start at the top. Manufacturing companies must recognize employees as the most significant aspect of the production process. Without manpower and know-how, after all, widgets do not get made, cars do not roll off the assembly line and end users cannot offer a finished product to their customers.

"When people start thinking of their employees as their assets going home on wheels, we will get there," says Ray Dalton, founder and CEO of Parts Source, Inc., the nation's only multi-manufacturer, multi-modality alternative parts supplier supporting imaging and bio-med parts requests for hospital equipment.

"There," as Dalton sees it, is that place where manufacturing is as much about developing people as it is about developing products.

The question becomes, how do we get "there"?

Manufacturing employers must take the "Starbucks approach" to recruiting top talent and thus achieving success. Starbucks, one of the largest American manufacturers, has created a culture, a workplace that delivers satisfaction to the customer and employee alike.

Because of this culture, employees would rather be at Starbuck's, working, than staying at home.

The "Starbuck's approach" is as simple as 1, 2, 3:

Starbucks refers to its employees as "partners." While that may not mean that a barista will earn the same amount of money as the CEO, it does suggest that each employee is an integral element of the overall product. Starbucks is one of the few American manufacturers that can truly say their manufacturing process is perfected, enabling its partners the means to deliver the same quality product in Tokyo, London or Cleveland.

Incentives, growth opportunities and recognition encourage Starbucks employees to show up every day, do their absolute best and be proud of the product they help create. People work at Starbucks because they have a sense of belonging. They take pride in what they produce because of measurable performance standards and clear job descriptions with a defined corporate ladder structure. People want to work where they feel appreciated.

By creating a positive work environment and offering benefits and profit-sharing opportunities, Starbucks enjoys a low turnover rate. In addition to their hourly rate and benefits, employees have the opportunity to share the profits of the company as long as they have performed to the standards outlined by employment.

These three factors compliment Starbucks' clear corporate identity, which is simply focused on success.

Can manufacturing take this approach with its employees? Can an assembly-line worker be considered a "partner" in the production process, be offered incentives and shown the appreciation he/she deserves and earn enough money to really enjoy life? Is the manufacturing industry in and around Northeast Ohio ready to offer such a package? Can we be the leader in quality, talent and best practices? What's the first step toward getting there?

For starters, we need to evaluate how skilled laborers are viewed in the overall marketplace. For example, does the market place a higher value on jobs that amuse or entertain rather than those that produce?

In his book The Next American Economy, William J. Holstein charges that is all too often the case. "Too many economists... don't understand the quality of economic activity. To them, a person making $15 an hour dealing cards at a casino is generating the same output as one on a manufacturing line producing goods that command a strong position in the U.S. and world markets. One job requires relatively low levels of education and is highly vulnerable to the vagaries of the tourist economy; the other requires real skills and can be defended against international competition."

Not to slam the proposed casinos in Cleveland, for they are sure to bring some jobs and boost the local economy. On the other hand, skilled laborers are making items that will be used to operate farm equipment, drive cars and further medical research, here and around the globe. How can we afford to pay these workers less than what they and their labor are worth?

This article originally appeared on

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