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Inside View on Manufacturing: Tim Collins

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Tim Collins is the operational general manager of NorthStar Battery USA’s Springfield operations, which employ 520 people in manufacturing plants at Partnership Industrial Center and PIC West. NorthStar also has operations in Sweden, India and China.

What was your biggest challenge as a company coming into 2011?
Externally, we had challenges including material inflation and regulatory uncertainty. There was some concern with health care initiatives and how they were going to affect us, as well as what tax rates on businesses were going to be. Internally, the challenges we face are in managing the rapid growth into new products and new markets while we continue to drive safety, quality and productivity as our key company measurements.

In 2009, NorthStar constructed a 320,000-square-foot plant at PIC West. What has fueled the company’s recent local growth?
The boon in smart phones continues to drive the telecom industry, which is our core business. We sell a thin-plate, pure lead-acid battery. Our market (includes) big operators such as Verizon, Ericsson, Nokia and Siemens. We just recently got into our automotive product, which is also a thin-plate design with very high output. Those can be used in ambulances (and) police cars. … One of the other interesting markets is the uninterrupted power supply market … for the large mainframes where you need to have immediate battery back-up. … Throughout the entire economic downturn, we didn’t have to lay off a single employee. We adjusted our line rates by taking time out of our schedules and worked with all of our employees.

How is NorthStar’s global business model paving the way for continued growth?
If you look at the telecom industry, it is growing at virtually an exponential rate outside the United States. (In) the Middle East, Africa, China, there is a tremendous amount of growth. A lot of places aren’t even putting in the traditional landline infrastructure. They’re just going straight to cellular communications. Being a global company is important for us to be able to compete in that market and gain those customers.

Did you lay off any employees during the last couple of years?
That’s one of the things we are very proud of – throughout the entire economic downturn, we didn’t have to lay off a single employee. We adjusted our line rates by taking time out of our schedules and worked with all of our employees, both hourly and salaried associates. We currently have 520 employees (in Springfield).   

What are your chief business or operational goals for 2011?
Our goals don’t change much from year to year. What we talk about with our employees and as a management team, is that we want to bring value to our customers. We want to deliver a superior quality product. We continually bring new and innovative products to market,  and we want to run the safest and most environmentally friendly battery factories in the world. Finally, we want to provide jobs and a great work environment to southwest Missouri.

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