Few had operations in the South already, but after visiting Atlanta this week, manufacturers from the Canadian province of Quebec had a better idea why some of their clients and competitors see promise in the region.
The group of about 10 executives in industries ranging from garage doors to garden tools came to learn best practices in manufacturing from internationally active Georgia firms, including Millennium Mats, which exports about 25 percent of its production from Suwanee, and Hansgrohe, a German-owned subsidiary with a local plant in Forsyth County and operations in 40-plus countries.
The trip was organized by IDE Conseil, a Quebec City-based business organization with more than 120 corporate members. Each year, it leads a trip to another region to help members keep their business edge.
“It’s kind of a retreat,” said Lucie Couturier, associate for consulting services at IDE. “You can step back from your problems and think outside the box for three days.”
That the group landed in Atlanta was a testament to the power of the city’s educational and diplomatic connections.
Benoit Montreuil, an internationally recognized academic in material handling and logistics who got his Ph.D. in Quebec and taught for a time at Universite Laval, is now a chaired professor in the industrial engineering school at Georgia Institute of Technology.
He was integral in IDE’s decision to visit and arranged two days of technical programming including a visit to Georgia Tech’s robotics institute, which impressed many of the visitors.
Louise Fortin, director of economic affairs at the Quebec government’s office in Atlanta, said the trip wasn’t designed to result in pitches for investment into Georgia, but many companies from the province have found a market in the southern U.S. after becoming acquainted with the region.
Given the small size of the Canadian market relative to the U.S., they’re often very outward-looking, and as the economy here has recovered, they have been more aggressively courting partners and potential acquisitions, she said.
“Their natural market is here, and once they start exporting, you can say that five years later they’ll have increased from 10 percent to 50 percent, and it just escalates from then on once they learn the ropes and what the channel of distribution is. And as they feed it and nurture it, 80 percent (of sales) is going to be here,” Ms. Fortin said, pointing out natural fits for certain companies, like Gecko Alliance Group, which makes electronics and pumps for spas.
Most impressive to many of the Quebec-based executives was the cooperation they witnessed among government officials, economic developers, educational institutions and the private sector in Atlanta, they told Global Atlanta in interviews.
“It’s unbelievable to see the coordination that you have. Everything is there to make it easy,” said Jean LaFlamme, owner of South Shore Furniture, which sells ready-to-assemble pieces to online retailers like Amazon.com and has a permanent showroom in the furniture mecca of High Point, N.C.
That cooperative sentiment was on display at a luncheon hosted by the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce, where some attendees gave unprompted testimonials of their success in the affluent north metro county, while chamber and government officials including R.J. (Pete) Amos, chairman of the board of commissioners, noted their readiness to help international companies set up shop. The county is home to about 30 German firms.
During the earlier visit to Millennium Mats, the executives were able to see how the company drives efficiency through a decentralized but highly monitored approach to production in a plant with at least 175 employees from 31 countries.
Each unit is centered around a machine, like the injection molds that make car mats from recycled vinyl, the press that uses temperature and pressure to fuse carpet with plastic or rubber backing or the giant printer that puts team colors and logos and other designs on the carpets.
Each operates as its own business unit, complete with a “CEO.” He or she buys the material from the company and sells back finished goods. The production team can track the finished cycles in real time on screens that show how much bonus money they’ve earned for the day.
“They know how they’re doing,“ said Nicolas Nunez, the Chilean-born director of manufacturing at a plant that can churn out 1.3 million mats a year and has recently brought some production of auto mats back from China.
But most intriguing to many of the Canadian visitors was another video system — an array of cameras trained on every part of the factory, monitored in real time by an army of IT staffers at a partner company in India who point out inefficiencies or outright mistakes.
The visit was organized with help by Next Generation Manufacturing, a trade group that helps Georgia manufacturers connect and share best practices.
For more on the delegation or to connect with the companies, contact Ms. Fortin at 404-584-2995 x 59912 or by email at Louise.Fortin@mri.gouv.qc.ca.