Embracing Innovation in Business and Workforce Proves Transformative for Youngstown Family Business
“The Great Resignation” is the term that has been given to the tumultuous workforce landscape that has emerged from the pandemic. When there is a company in today’s marketplace who is not facing a talent shortage but in fact is wait listing highly sought-after talent, it pays to take a closer look at how this company is defying the marketplace trends and is thriving.
M-7 Technologies in Youngstown Ohio is a third-generation family-owned business that has successful transformed itself from an ironworks foundry to a metrology and additive manufacturing industry leader. The transformation did not happen overnight, and it was not without growing pains, but the vision and focus of CEO Mike Garvey guided M-7 to an industry leadership position.
Garvey took over the family business in the mid-90s when his father fell ill, and he was faced with loss of his customer base as the steel industry shut its doors in NE Ohio. Shortly after assuming company leadership a catastrophic fire destroyed the foundry and left the company with a small three-man machine shop as its only asset.
“I knew we were going to base the business on technology because at that point in the mid-90s technology really starting to hit the shore,” said Garvey. “We knew we were going to base the new business model in advanced manufacturing technology. Things began to evolve from the foundry to a small machine shop, a larger machine shop, to M-7, and the common thread was a high appreciation for how things fit together.”
The focus on quality was the key and allowed Garvey to remake the company.
As Garvey rebranded the company to M-7 Technologies and embarked on this technology pathway, he found a key to the success was to forge partnerships with MAGNET, the Ohio MEP program and the regional industry sector partnership, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition (MVMC).
MAGNET has been an ongoing technical resource that has helped M-7 expand its capabilities and expertise and position itself as an industry innovator. After having established itself as the leader in cooperative target measurement, M-7 was one of the first companies in North America to use non-contact measuring, including Grale Technology which is partially owned by M-7. The impact of the technology in the market is a game changer, having improved operating margins by 5% - 15%, improving machine utilization rates by 25% -50%. The return on investment on Grale Technology is realized in 27 weeks or less.
“MAGNET was able to help us achieve our goals and bring us to where we are today,” said Garvey. “In addition, they have provided the platform that we will be using as we move forward in other developments of advanced manufacturing technology.”
“MAGNET has functioned as a catalyst and resource for Mike and his business growth for many years,” said Michael O’Donnell, Vice President of Operations at MAGNET. “When Mike and his team need to develop equipment and technology for new markets, he taps into MAGNET to implement the most updated and progressive methods and Industry 4.0 hardware and software.”
MAGNET has continued to bring expertise to the projects and recently helped M-7 sister company Center Street Technology to launch one of the world’s largest 3D printers, large enough to enclose a Ford F-150 pickup.
Taking a leadership position as an industry innovator has paid off for M-7 Technologies and its sister companies Grale Technologies and Center Street Technologies. The companies have been honored with the Defense Manufacturing Excellence Team Award in 2015 and as an Innovator of the Year in 2018.
As Garvey navigated the on-ramp to Industry 4.0 technologies, he quickly saw challenges for his workforce. It started with himself as he saw he needed an upgrade to his own skills to full embrace the technologies and realize its full impact.
“The shift to non-contact measuring is when I really had the steep learning curve,” said Garvey. “I had to get serious about adding to my skill set.”
The learning curve for Garvey made him realize that there was also a steep curve for his workforce.
Workforce became a critical component to growth. Without the right talent onboard, the capability of the technology would not be fully realized. The focus on workforce led Garvey, a board member for MAGNET, to be a founding member of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition (MVMC), the regional Industry Sector Partnership (ISP).
“I have always seen workforce as a calibrated progression,” said Garvey. “As leadership, you must understand where the individual employee is in that continuum and what training is needed,” said Garvey. “Number one, are they interested in receiving training? Number two, what training is needed to start upscaling them? Then number three, where are we going to get the training? Finally, what is the workforce going to look like after they have that training? That is the model we have been following for the last 20 years.”
Garvey is clear that the culture of innovation that surrounds M-7 Technologies is the key. There is buy-in from his workforce into upskilling their abilities to maximize the impact of the technologies.
“Culture is the key to this entire process,” said Garvey. “I am more than understanding if people say, this is more than I want to get myself involved in. There are also other people that do not want to make the investment in the time that is required to upskill. But there's also a handful of people that are looking to get upskilled and willing to make the investment. Those are the ones who are critical to our success.“
For M-7 the quest to upskill its workforce has been an ongoing process. For Garvey tapping into the partnership with MVMC and leveraging programs like Ohio TechCred and the Ohio MEP Internship programs have led to an increasingly skilled workforce and a pipeline of talent.
A key component for M-7 is an industry-recognized credential (IRC) being tied to the training. Credentials are proof that the employee or candidate has the desired skill set and can perform at an industry standard.
“Early on, M-7 embraced the value of industry credentials and the power of learn and earn models. It is no surprise, given Mike’s focus on quality as third-party credentials can validate an employee’s skill set. They are baked into MVMC’s high school pre-apprenticeship program and the Registered Apprenticeship. M-7 was an early adopter and a long-time participant in these programs,” said MVMC Executive Director Jessica Borza.
“MVMC has tremendous relationships with the Ohio Technical Centers, and we had three interns last summer from the pre-apprenticeship program, and we were able to align that to a program through MAGNET that we had part of their wages reimbursed,” said Garvey. “The pre-apprentices were fantastic, and we hired two of them.”
This also was a great example of how MAGNET and MVMC collaborated in support of a manufacturer’s workforce needs. MVMC developed the high school pre-apprenticeship program, and MAGNET was able to offset a portion of the on-the-job training costs to the employer.
Through his participation in MVMC, Garvey also learned about additional resources to assist him in upskilling his employees in support of technology adoption.
“We have leveraged Ohio TechCred funding for robotics training, measurement data processing software training and Siemen’s Advanced Manufacturing software training, among others. There are employers that fear if they upskill their employees that employee will leave for another opportunity. I have always felt that is incredibly short sighted. Why would you want someone in the position who does not have all the skill required for the role? Our approach has been to invest in the employee and make them feel secure in their role and their place in the organization. If they do leave, they were going to leave at some point anyway and we will find someone with the required skill and invest in them. We have been fortunate that this approach has worked, and we have lost very few individuals over the years.”
Mike Garvey has worked hard to build the culture at M-7 Technologies and that culture is an asset that pays dividends for the company. In these troubled times the technical and meaningful work and the investment in people has established M-7 Technologies as an employer of choice and one who has been able to navigate the dramatic post pandemic workforce landscape with minimal trouble.
This case study is one of many examples of manufacturers working in partnership with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association (OMA) and its statewide network of 13 endorsed Industry Sector Partnerships (ISP) to address workforce challenges while leveraging the expertise of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership to embrace innovation and Industry 4.0.