Business conference aims to boost local manufacturing jobs

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DAVENPORT - - A new event, the Midwest Manufacturing Business Conference, aims to inspire a new era for making things in the Quad Cities.

It takes place, April 24-25, at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf.  For enrollment information, check here.

"The key point here is, re-imagine who you are," said organizer Kevin Santry, on Friday, April 14.

Santry, a Davenport CPA, says manufacturing must adapt out of necessity to become leaner, smarter and more innovative.

The conference will feature dozens of guest speakers, including actor John Ratzenberger, better known as Cliff from TV's "Cheers."

"Wow, this stuff is good stuff," Santry said. "We need to learn more."

Big companies like Deere & Company are doing more with less. That means fewer jobs that require more skills. Santry encourages small shops to carve their own niche with an educated workforce.

"You're going to have to go to a community college and get an education of a year or two to be able to even work in tomorrow's manufacturing environment," he said.

The U.S. has lost some five million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Illinois dropped more than 300,000 during the same period.

Santry says those jobs are gone for good, so smaller companies must innovate to survive.

While Crawford Company is known for heating and cooling, it's even busier now building equipment for micro-breweries all over the country.

Raynor Garage Doors is using a million-dollar plant upgrade to make the most of technology and workforce.

"You have to have more customers, but your ability to control your own destiny is greater," Santry said.

Smaller companies, once forced to ride a volatile roller coaster with large factories, are envisioning fresh starts.

"I think it's time to get off the roller coaster," Santry concluded.  "It's time for the local manufacturers to design their own rides."