The Shingo Prize is awarded annually to businesses and government agencies to recognize outstanding achievements in manufacturing. It's been called the Nobel Prize for manufacturers. Maybe. I've been in manufacturing for twenty years now and never heard of it until recently. But it's kinda hard to ignore the Shingo Prize this year because its gala award event is being held right here in ol' River City at the DeVos Place convention center.
That's a good thing, because it recognizes the importance of manufacturing to Grand Rapids. We are in fact one the primary manufacturing centers in North America. Few other places have our solid mix of large industry, small manufacturers, and job shops of every variety. It would be a good thing if the City Commission and City staffers understood what a boon this is for our community. If nothing else manufacturing provides good jobs and a hefty tax base for the City. Instead, City officials pursue the fool's gold of reinventing downtown as a "Cool City" and bulldozing the rest for Renaissance zones/Smart Zones/TIFAs, white elephants like the convention center, and other non-taxpaying/tax-subsidized boondoggles.
However, the City cannot completely ignore the need for manufacturing. So it outsources the retention and recruitment of manufacturers to Birgit Klohs's Right Place program. To this end (though I'm not clear how), the Right Place has contracted with the Shingo Prize's national board to award the prize at the state level and three candidates have applied for the award at the close of the April 1st deadline a couple of weeks ago. They are Autocam Corporation of Kentwood, Irwin Seating Company of Walker, and Metalworks Inc. of Ludington.
The odd thing about this is that these three companies were part of the committee the Right Place created to administer the award! Isn't that cozy? Moreover, Autocam founder and president, John Kennedy*, has a seat on the Right Place's Manufacturers' Council. Well, I suppose the Shingo Prize board and the Right Place can come up with any rules they want for handing out awards. But if they want us to take it seriously, they might want to consider not having committee members give themselves the prize.
Just a suggestion.
* You know John Kennedy ... he was one of the "Young Turks" of a decade or so ago ... Harvard Business School genius who became CFO of Joe Spruit's Autodie, took it public, lost a $140 million in the span of a few years, and rode Autodie almost all the way into bankruptcy until he bailed out with Autocam in tow.
You know, whenever we laud Kennedy's success with Autocam, we never mention where Autocam came from. We certainly don't wonder how it ended up with all those German screw machines Autodie was storing. We never ponder how Autocam made Kennedy a multi-millionaire while Autodie's workers lost their pensions, Autodie's shareholders lost their entire investment, and Autodie's small suppliers were left with huge unpaid bills.
But that's another story for another day in River City, folks.