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Joining forces: metalworkers increase competitiveness through industrial network.

One way for small companies to improve competitiveness and marketing services is through networks.

Such companies usually cannot afford full-time quality improvement and marketing staffs. Networks allow them to join forces and solve common problems.

The Metalworking Connection Inc. is a southwest Arkansas network that covers 18 counties. It was begun in 1990 by Bob Graham, director of the Economic Development Center at Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia, and Clayton Franklin, director of Henderson State University's Economic Development Center at Arkadelphia.

"We felt no one was paying attention to the small manufacturing companies," Franklin says. "Metalworking is a basic support industry and almost a prerequisite for an area's industrial growth."

Membership has grown from 33 to 57 companies since the 1990 organizational meeting. The average member firm has 11 employees.

Annual membership dues are $15.

"Anytime member firms want to initiate a program or activity, Bob Graham and I seek out funds for them," Franklin says.

A recent grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation of Little Rock provided $20,000 for MCI members to travel to Washington and tour the National Institute of Standards and Technology's "Shop of the '90s." It displays state-of-the-art metalworking technology.

The NIST is part of the Department of Commerce.

"The purpose of the trip was to move our companies toward certification as vendors for the aerospace industry," Franklin says. "The state has begun an extensive effort to recruit aerospace firms to Arkansas. But those companies can't afford to expand into Arkansas unless we have enough certified vendors to fill their needs for components."

More Money

A $350,000 grant from the state Department of Education will allow MCI to establish a youth apprenticeship program. In addition to providing training, Franklin says the four-year program will contribute to Arkansas' aerospace appeal.

The program, scheduled to begin this fall, will train high school students to become certified machinists.

"In the morning, they will attend high school," Franklin says. "Afternoons will be spent training with us. After graduation, students will have the option of continuing their training while furthering their education at a vocational-technical school in the mornings."

MCI officials will select 35 students to participate in the program.

The Arkansas Science and Technology Authority also awarded MCI a $20,000 grant from its Challenge Grant Program. The money will be used to identify joint marketing opportunities for member firms.

"We have a lot of good programs in the works," Franklin says. "Now, we need to spread the word that our member firms have a lot to offer."

Final details of the marketing effort, which will target the aerospace sector, will be worked out at MCI's regular membership meeting this month.

"We've had inquiries from central and northwest Arkansas companies," Franklin says. "They have seen what can be done by working together."
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Title Annotation:Metalworking Connection Inc.
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 13, 1992
Previous Article:Traveling Arkansas.
Next Article:A recipe for growth: Bradley County hopes to spark industrial growth with $1.25 million project.

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