For this edition of Ask the Expert, we spoke with Aviva Gold, Director of Marketing and Communications at CITEC, the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NY MEP) center serving the North Country. In addition to building a marketing strategy for CITEC, Aviva does the same for some of its clients—mainly small, rural manufacturers.
Tell us about CITEC Business Solutions and the region it serves.
We’re the MEP center for the North Country, serving New York’s seven northernmost counties. We’re close to the border, so we have a lot of Canadian companies that do their assembly work in the United States, and there are second and third-tier suppliers for those companies as well. We also have some universities here so there is some research and technical innovation going on. But the area is really rural and very sparsely populated, so companies tend to be small and also very self-sufficient. They try to find innovative ways to do things on their own with fewer resources.
One thing that distinguishes CITEC from a lot of the other MEP centers in the state is that we provide leadership training as one of our core programs. This has proven useful in today’s workforce environment, where you need leaders who understand their roles in creating a great workplace.
What is your background?
I came to CITEC In 2016 with a design, communication, and marketing background. I had a career in print production for many years and also spent several years as a communications consultant working with small businesses to develop strategic marketing plans and then execute specific projects within those plans.
What are the unique challenges of small, rural manufacturers?
I don’t know that their problems are any different than the things we’re hearing about nationwide. The workforce is huge here, just as it is everywhere, but we have even fewer people. Supply chain issues, same thing. As shipments start to come in, the smaller companies and smaller orders aren’t going to be the priority shipments. So, it is harder for our businesses to recover from these things.
How are your clients dealing with workforce issues?
Our companies are finding pretty innovative ways to attract and retain employees. For example, a few years ago, General Composites in Willsboro was not getting any applications for open positions. The president noticed people were driving by her facility on the way to Plattsburgh, 40 minutes away. She realized she could offer them shorter commutes. She put out one of those huge waving flag signs saying “hiring” and they quickly filled their open spots. She’s also innovative with training and promoting from within. She has flexible scheduling, which is a challenge in manufacturing, but she’s managed to make it work. She involves more team members in the hiring process than other companies do.
The point is this: there might not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but companies who really look at what is going on in their facility and in their communities are able to find what they need.
Are small, rural manufacturers embracing Industry 4.0?
We aren’t seeing a lot of wide-scale Industry 4.0 conversion up here. Newer, larger companies are building facilities with robotics and automation and processing a lot of data but less so the smaller, older companies. But the prices are coming down for this stuff. The technology sometimes offers really easy solutions that can integrate with equipment that people already have, like iPads and cell phones. We are seeing more of these things coming online.
Can you share one of your marketing success stories with us?
We worked with a small, family-owned machine shop in Bombay, NY, called Durban Machine North. They wanted to grow their customer base and pipeline, specifically in the Plattsburgh area, around an hour away. They didn’t have any professional marketing material, a current website, or a strategy. We worked with them to clearly define and express their value proposition, built a new website, designed a new logo, and set up a 12-month marketing work plan based solely on what the company had the capacity, and the interest, to do in-house. They did increase their sales, landing their biggest job to date, and invested in a new machine earlier than planned. With smaller companies, a well-defined plan and a motivated client who understands his or her business can lead to really solid results.