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Manufacturing association teams up with Miss Georgia in the fight against industry stereotypes

4th Annual Georgia Manufacturing Summit

By Amber Spradley

ATLANTA –Georgia Manufacturing Alliance (GMA) hosted the state’s manufacturing event of the year this week at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta where more than 850 people gathered over breakfast and lunch to hear keynote speakers take educational classes and network with industry leaders.

From a humble beginning in 2008, Jason Moss established GMA to provide a place for manufacturers to connect. It started as a small group of 16 people in a conference room lacking growth. Moss faced financial struggles during the 2008 recession, and he turned to his network to discuss terminating the alliance in 2012.

“Several of them came to me, and they told me they would not be in business today had it not been through the work they got through the organization,” said Moss. “I knew it was having an impact, but I didn’t know it was having that kind of impact, and when they told me that, that was the day I was determined to turn this into something that would last for generations.”

In 2018 alone, a total of about 3,200 people have attended events hosted by GMA, and this year’s Summit marked Moss’s 105th occasion.

Rod Freeman, president of Reliable Energy Alternatives, was one of Moss’s first 16 members, and he has been present at all the meetings.

“He’s done a phenomenal job through his constituency and network to build this organization and to build this alliance to what it is today,” said Freeman.

For five years in a row, Georgia has been named the No. 1 state for business with manufacturing growth contributing generously to its success, according to Gov. Nathan Deal. More than 10,000 manufacturers employ at least 440,000 Georgians, and the industry makes up 10% of the state’s GDP.

“Since 2008, Jason Moss and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance have worked to advance our state’s manufacturing industries through plant tours, educational workshops, and networking events,” said Gov. Deal. “GMA has promoted global resources, developed talent and shared best practices among industry leaders.”

Despite GMA’s efforts and Georgia’s 14.5 percent growth in manufacturing over the last five years, the industry’s career opportunities are generally not the most appealing to the new generation. According to Moss, many people think of manufacturing as a dangerous, dead-end, dirty job people do only when they have nothing else to do.

“That’s the mentalities, that old, sweat-shop mentality,” said Moss. “But that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

The industry stereotype Moss thrives to break down is similar to what Annie Jorgensen is battling as Miss Georgia. Some people look at pageantry as nothing more than a beauty contest, and the winner is often seen as more of a pretty face than a state’s ambassador.

At this week’s Summit, Moss announced Jorgensen as GMA’s new spokesperson.

“She represents what we’re trying to do because she’s also trying to break some of the stereotypes,” said Moss. “So, I think it’s a really neat pairing for us to be able to work together.”

Jorgensen graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in May and became Miss Georgia in July.

“I’m just really excited to be able to use my platform and my voice as Miss Georgia to reach a new audience that maybe the manufacturing community hasn’t been able to tap into, and hopefully, that will create a chain reaction and benefit our economy and our community and the betterment of Georgia, overall,” said Jorgensen.

The theme this year was “flying high”, which centered on Georgia’s No. 1 manufacturing industry, aerospace. About 99,000 Georgians work in aerospace manufacturing, and they generate about $8 billion of state revenue annually. Last year, Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the nation for aerospace manufacturing.

Top executives from two leading aerospace manufacturers shared insights with the alliance on Wednesday. The keynote speakers included Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream Aerospace, and Eric Rojek, vice president of Thrush Aircraft.

According to Forbes, Gulfstream is a worldwide leader in the design, development, manufacturing, and marketing of technologically advanced business jets. Burns has worked for the company for more than 35 years.

With at least 10,250 workers, Gulfstream employs more people than any other manufacturer in Georgia.

“The alliance has been a good sounding board for us for a lot of different levels throughout our organization,” said Burns. “You know, as a business, sometimes we get immersed in whatever our particular business issue is, but having the alliance here to address some of the larger, long-term issues is very important to us as a manufacturer.”

Burns says their aircraft will become more lightweight, faster and safer as artificial intelligence and technology continue to evolve over the next 10 years, and his team is committed to continuous improvement. One of his core values is to bring opportunity to people.

“It comes down to the people and making sure we’re developing people and we give them the opportunity,” said Burns. “I’ve kind of been the poster child for that. I’ve probably been given more opportunities through the years than I deserve, but…it’s been a company that creates a lot of opportunity for people. And that’s one of the things as a leader that I can be excited about.”

Georgia is also No. 1 in the nation for forestry. Thrush Aircraft, a manufacturer of agricultural airplanes designed to spray chemicals over farmland, partnered with Georgia Forestry and Drone America to provide un-manned firefighting aircraft to protect lands and extinguish fires.

Thrush planes are designed to keep pilots safe while improving productivity in agriculture. They’re specifically designed to withstand hot temperatures and strong chemicals.

Thrush’s newest segment of firefighting aircraft is crafted to robotically operate, drop 500 gallons of water and provide data to rescuers and firefighters in real time.

“Really what makes our company great is the employees that we have that work together at Thrush,” said Rojek. “Every single piece of aluminum, every single of piece of the steel you see on the aircraft is solely manufactured in-house…That wouldn’t be possible without our skill set of employees.”

Thrush aircraft sprays over 71 million acres a year, and by doing so, Thrush keeps food on the table for families throughout the world and saves the population over time.

“There’s nothing more important than putting food on the table, and we’re a part of an industry that makes a difference. We’re providing food. We’re providing resources,” said Rojek. “Whether it’s spraying peanuts in South Georgia, banana groves in Costa Rica, helping farmers produce more or fighting world forest fires, agricultural aircraft make our lives better.”

Both Burns and Rojek emphasize the importance of workforce development and job training in a growing business environment like Georgia.

The 2018 People of Manufacturing Awards were also presented during the Summit.

Elton Seton, production supervisor of KaMin, LLC, won the Front-Line Leadership Award. Jason Hardon, lean manager of Sunny Delight and site operations manager of Harvest Hill, won the Plant Manager of the Year Award.

Excellence in Team Safety was awarded to Scientific Games International, the world’s largest supplier of instant lottery games with 400 employees and headquarters in Alpharetta. Operational Excellence was awarded to Adient, a global leader in automotive seating honored by KIA.

Moss’s goal is to grow his alliance to over 1,000 members and host an event with over 5,000 attendees. He plans to welcome 2,500 attendees to the Georgia Manufacturing Summit in 2020.

Click here for GMA’s calendar of upcoming networking events.


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