randy-scottRandy Scott was never a manufacturer. But for the past decade, the founder of R L Scott Consulting has become immersed in advocating for the industry across the region.

For instance, he co-founded the Pikes Peak Manufacturing Partnership, an organization that promotes Southern Colorado’s manufacturing community, with Springs Fabrication owner Tom Neppl. He also recently helped transform the partnership into the southern chapter of the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, through which Scott creates awareness of manufacturing industries, addresses the potential workforce shortage and develops opportunities for those within the industry to network. Scott also was instrumental in the creation of the Southern Colorado Manufacturing Expo, which will take place in November.

He took some time this week to discuss the industry’s past, present and future in Southern Colorado.

How did you get involved in manufacturing?

My last corporate gig was with Standex, a holding company with about 20 or so manufacturing companies. I ran the consumer group division, which included a small retail bookstore chain, a publishing company and a direct mail company in Texas. I was there for five years and the division sold in around 2007.

I thought, “What will I do next?”

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I got calls from nonprofits and did consulting projects and managing. Those led to a part-time executive director position with the Southern Colorado Business Partnership, a consortium of chambers and economic developers from Castle Rock to Trinidad. One of the things they identified as wanting to see was manufacturing growth in Southern Colorado.

I left that [position], but really enjoyed the manufacturing community and the people involved in it.

When Gov. [John] Hickenlooper came into office, he did what’s called the state blueprint, the strategic plan. One thing that came out of that was the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance.

The second thing the state wanted to get behind was advanced manufacturing, which is kind of loosely defined. So we decided to stand up a sector partnership here.

We went to something called the Sector Summit, which the state put on, and learned what sector partnerships were all about. The big thing is, they’re industry-led and community-partner supported. There’s been a lot of manufacturing organizations even in El Paso County in the past and they don’t last long. There’s usually no one driving it. Manufacturers are busy people and they have their businesses to run.

So, we held a strategic planning retreat, brought in a bunch of community partners from the [Pikes Peak] Workforce Center, the community colleges and universities, and eight or nine manufacturers, and talked about our focus. It was April 2014 that we created the manufacturing alliance, which is now CAMA South.

What is your role?

My role has been as a convener. I’m the coordinator, the one behind the scenes to make sure we have our meetings and keep planning and coordinating. One thing we learned at the summit was you need somebody who’s going to do that.

What’s the industry’s biggest challenge?

Right now, it’s the future workforce. As Boomers retire, the youth aren’t coming up. The schools gave up shop classes years ago, so where do they get exposure? And there’s such a drive in the educational system that people go to a four-year school.

We’re not anti four-year school. It’s important, but not everybody is ready for it. Get a two-year degree and go through an internship program or get certified to be a welder or a [Computer Numerical Control] machinist for a while. We’re going to beta-test a program with Pikes Peak Community College to create a robust apprentice program to get youth more engaged.

The workforce center and the community college last year did a skills gap analysis. It wasn’t as geared toward manufacturing, but this year, we’ll be a part of that committee and put in questions that can provide a feel for what those true workforce needs are.

Any other challenges?

Local incentives and taxes. We’ve had situations like a company looking to put a plant, for instance, here or in Omaha. They make their capital request and factor in their capital equipment tax and put their business in Omaha. That’s something [Mayor John Suthers] is looking at, and that’s a good thing.

Utilities are another big deal. It has to be cooperative with those using a lot of power. We have to have economically priced water and electricity. Overall, the rates are fine, but I’m not sure how much of an incentive utilities are for new companies.

How big is manufacturing here and what is its potential?

In 2013, Manufacturer’s Edge did a statewide survey. There are roughly 5,600 to 6,000 manufacturers in the state. In Colorado Springs we had 652 at that time. Pueblo has 168. They have a different sector for manufacturing, but it’s still very important to their overall economic base. But 78 percent of manufacturers in the state have fewer than 19 employees.

Thirty years ago the country started a downward slide of outsourcing. The whole economy started to change and focus on higher tech, but then we realized we didn’t have a diversified economy. But the change also forced manufacturers to get lean and mean, and they had to rely more on tech and on being more efficient — a slim-down. We probably will never hire as many people in manufacturing as 30 years ago. But the world has changed. That’s what’s made manufacturing more competitive. One of the blessings of the ’08 recession was more people started taking a stronger look at their supply chains and a lot realized going overseas wasn’t working. You have two things: China’s economy is going strong, paying people more and now they are less competitive than they were 30 years ago. The U.S. is also getting leaner. The two have started to balance. For a lot of companies the differential isn’t enough to justify the transportation costs. If it’s labor-intensive, the work will go where there’s cheaper labor. If it’s not, [the U.S.] can hold its own.

How has manufacturing evolved since you’ve been involved?

The industry is talking. They are working together. The sector partnership challenge is, in some cases, bringing together competitors.

But the reality is they see they are competitors, but on the other hand, there can be a bigger win.

For instance, we had a manufacturer that didn’t have the capacity alone to land a particular job. But because of the business’s  relationships, he was able to ask around for help. I think more of that will happen.

Most manufacturers are pretty small. As people get to know each other, they build trust and are less concerned about competition.

CAMA South’s next networking event will be from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 18 at 4745 Forge Road.