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2018 Manufacturing Outlook: Mark Hillenburg

Digital Monitoring Products Inc. executive director of marketing

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Mark Hillenburg – having served Springfield’s Digital Monitoring Products for 23 years in purchasing, product design and marketing – keeps a close eye on trends that affect manufacturers.

2018 Projection: A renewed sense of pride in locally made products is combining with lower tax rates to make a favorable factory outlook. The challenge: finding enough qualified people to fill the jobs.


SBJ: How would you describe the current climate of the industry?
Hillenburg: There’s a renewed interest in manufacturing here in the United States, especially in Springfield. I think the manufacturing industry is on an upswing.

There’s a lot of talk about “Made in the USA,” and there’s a lot of of consciousness by consumers on where products are manufactured. People are actually willing to spend a little bit more money for something that’s made in their state or made in the United States or that they perceive has a higher quality because it’s not mass produced in a foreign factory.

SBJ: What’s fueling that interest in consumers?
Hillenburg: It’s a lot of things. I think there’s a kind of – at least in Springfield – this sort of hipster movement of an artisan, hand-crafted undercurrent for different items. That works its way all the way up to the iPhone that we buy. Soon, they’re going be manufactured in Wisconsin. It was a big issue in the presidential campaign, and nationwide politics continue to talk about renewing manufacturing throughout the country.

SBJ: Are there any buzzwords you’re hearing for next year in manufacturing?
Hillenburg: There’s been quite a bit of talk and prediction of whether or not these tax cuts would come through. And it looks like they have. So obviously, that’s top of mind here, the last few days. One of the things that people forget when they hear that there’s tax cuts for the corporations or the wealthiest people is that typically those corporations employ individuals. And anything you read says your people are really what makes the differentiator in your company. So any big corporation sees it that way, and they’re going to invest in their people.

SBJ: What was the biggest driver for 2017?
Hillenburg: Obviously, the election was a big change, and there was a lot of uncertainty. And I think there still is quite a bit of uncertainty. But overall, the economy seems to like the new administration. I think that will continue to drive growth and investment. In 2017, DMP expanded our building. We built out in three different directions preparing for growth in the next three or four years.

SBJ: What are the next challenges?
Hillenburg: Nokia was purchased by Microsoft. And the CEO of Nokia sort of lamented, “We didn’t do anything wrong.” Which is true. They didn’t do anything wrong. But, they didn’t adapt and change at the rate that the rest of their industry did, and therefore they sort of got outpaced and got gobbled up. One of the keys to any business, and especially manufacturing, is seeing the change and embracing that change and embracing the ability to move forward with technology, whatever that may be. You have to keep up, and you really have to be able to predict where you’re going to need to be.

In a manufacturing environment, sometimes it’s not quick to change your manufacturing line. There may be 20-week lead times on certain tools or parts or things that you would have to adapt. So you really have to be able to look out into the future and make decisions on where you need to be.

At DMP, one of the challenges is finding engineering personnel: developers, software developers, code writers and that type of engineering. We have some great resources at Missouri (University of Science and Technology) and the local colleges. But oftentimes, some of those people, they have aspirations to go to one of the coasts and work for a big company. And we’ve had some pretty good success with finding people that have had two or three or four years experience on a coast and they’re like, “I’m thinking about starting a family. I’d kind of like to move back to the Midwest.” But one of the challenges is just finding the right – especially engineering – type of employee.

I think the more we talk about it, the more the next generation realizes that manufacturing is a viable career path. In the last 15 or 20 years, as a society, we may have overemphasized college education. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not an opponent of a college education. But we emphasize it to a great extent, and then we subsidize it with loans. Oftentimes, people graduate from college, and they don’t have a job or they don’t have a clear career path. There’s a lot of careers out there that college education might not be the best option for, and some of those might be in manufacturing.

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