Event celebrates manufacturing across country, in local area

Nathan Baker • Oct 25, 2013 at 9:11 AM

Manufacturers across the country opened their bay doors to curious visitors Thursday with hopes of correcting common misconceptions held regarding industrial producers and polishing manufacturing’s image.

“When people think about manufacturing jobs, they picture dirty factories with low-paying jobs,” Timothy Coleman, business development manager for Gray’s Industrial Electronics Services, said from the company’s sterile, well-lit assembly facility. “We pay our employees above minimum wage, and we’ve only had one round of layoffs in 25 years since we’ve been in business.”

Those layoffs were the result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and all of the affected workers were back on the job four months later, Coleman said.

The manufacturing public relations blitz Thursday was part of MFG Day 2013, designed to help highlight often unseen businesses that make up an important part of the U.S. economy.

Much of IES’ work, which includes manufacturing, repairing, designing, refurbishing and troubleshooting electronic components for military applications and private industries, is by necessity secretive, Coleman said, but the jobs and revenue generated at the high-tech facility has a significant effect on the local economy.

“We’ve got customers all over the world, but we walk very humbly,” Coleman said of IES’s $14 million in annual revenues. “We’re really focused on having a family-type environment for our employees and making sure we can supply what our customers need.”

Because IES holds government contracts that could be deemed critical to national security, like producing radioisotope sensors for Geiger counters, the company could be subject to halting production of private components at anytime in the event of a natural or man-made disaster to focus all of its activity on government products.

When a devastating tsunami hit the coast of Japan in 2011 and resulted in a partial meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Coleman said IES pre-emptively slowed production to make components company leaders knew would be needed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

What allows the company to compete on a global field, when less expensive labor can likely be found in many places, are the ancillary services that accompany IES’ products, Coleman said.

“We can do design and engineering work right here, when a lot of oversees manufacturers just know how to do a single thing,” he said. “We’re very flexible in what we can do for the customer, and sometimes, our customers just tell us what they want done and let us figure out how to do it.”

Coleman said MFG Day, which Tennessee stretched out for the entire month of October this year, puts a well-deserved spotlight on an important segment of the country’s economy.

“Not a lot of people know we’re here,” he said. “But they would probably know if we weren’t.”

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