This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Manufacturing requires laser focus and a clear vision, yet many find that same commitment can quickly detach a business leader from the day- to-day world around them. They can lose contact with their local community.
“It’s important that manufacturers prioritize and create schedules that allow for a focus on their community,” said Paul Aultman, president of Vantage Plastics in Standish. Vantage was the recipient of the 2017 MFG Community Impact Award at the MFG Excellence Awards last November.
Developing a clear corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan can help businesses struggling to juggle their time to properly dedicate resources — money, time, talent, influence, policies — to improving their community. A CSR plan can reconnect a manufacturer with its local and global community while providing unexpected benefits along the way.
Why do it?
“You don’t need to choose between the growth and profitability of a business and being a good community steward — the two complement one another,” Aultman pointed out. “There is so much we want to do and most of us have a growing list of opportunities to help better our community. It just takes time and dedication.”
For manufacturers seeking to increase community engagement, developing internal efforts toward greater CSR can be an important first step. Once a strategy is in place, successful CSR efforts can allow your business to:
- Improve brand reputation
- Attract new talent
- Boost employee morale
Improve Brand Reputation
The best cure to avoid losing touch is to develop a public presence and positive reputation in your local community.
“Open community communication is critical,” explained Brad Lawton, chairman & CEO of Star Cutter Company in Farmington Hills. “Over the years we’ve provided local leaders with tours of our facilities so they are confident we are promoting ‘environmentally friendly’ manufacturing principles and providing a safe working environment for our most important assets, employees.”
A recent Nielsen study found that 55 percent of consumers would actively travel additional distance and pay extra for products sold by companies that had a positive social impact.i Showing a conscious awareness of its role as an environmental steward can improve how you are publicly perceived.
“It’s important to give back to our communities because it’s where we spend our time,” said Jordan Thieme, director of operations for Bridgeport-based Amigo Mobility. “Seeing the community thrive makes going to work that much better. Being goodwill ambassadors boosts not only our internal morale but also impacts the local neighborhood in countless, positive ways.”
Your business should also develop relationships with media outlets — television, newspaper, radio and social media influencers — and local community colleges and universities so your volunteer efforts connect back with your brand.
“Every manufacturer should get involved with local educators to help develop rewarding training programs,” offered Kelly Victor-Burke, CEO of Burke Architectural Millwork, a small manufacturer located in Livonia. “You should also connect with local and regional organizations and statewide associations like MMA. Every opportunity to connect, develop worthwhile conversations and promote your role outside the facility can be the spark for something incredible — you never know where it might lead.”
Attract New Talent
One benefit to an active and engaged CSR strategy is the positive light it shines on manufacturing career opportunities.
“A lot of people still have a misguided view of manufacturing and it can be based on concerns going back decades, no matter how much has changed,” explained Chuck Hadden, MMA president & CEO. “Dark and dirty facilities are now brightly lit and much safer. Low wage, stagnant jobs have been replaced by high-paying career tracks. Today’s manufacturers are welcoming of women in the workplace and look to locate potential next generation employees from all areas of the community.”
Despite these improvements, many students don’t see manufacturing as a career path while others aren’t aware the option exists. You can overcome these misperceptions by engaging with young people and the adult influencers in their lives — parents, teachers, counselors, and local leaders. Manufacturers can participate in the nationwide MFG Day on 10/5/18 to begin changing minds and attracting the next generation workforce.
Active MFG Day participants open their doors to the community, showcase available industry career options and address common industry misperceptions. Since 2013, more than 10,000 unique MFG Day events have been held and nearly 600,000 people have attended — including over 260,000 students! (Check out MMA’s online tools and resources to connect with your community on MFG Day.)
“In order to become more engaged, you must get more engaged,” explained Aultman. “Start supporting your local schools and hosting events on MFG Day and throughout the year. Show your community what you do inside the buildings they walk and drive by every day. Let them see manufacturing in Michigan is alive and flourishing and that there are opportunities for everyone.”
To those thinking how much does this really matter — to future workers, it does! According to the 2017 post-MFG Day survey of students:ii
- 89 percent were more aware of manufacturing jobs in their community
- 84 percent were more convinced manufacturing provides careers that are interesting and rewarding
- 71 percent were more likely to tell friends, family or parents about manufacturing
- 64 percent were more motivated to pursue a career in manufacturing
Millennials are especially impacted by companies that go a step beyond what is expected. A 2017 Deloitte study found 88 percent of millennials believe employers should work to reduce local and global concerns such as income inequality and the environment while 86 percent view a successful business as one measured by more than profitability.iii
Companies incorporating a CSR strategy into their overall brand presence may see a boost in hiring as well — 78 percent of millennials say an effective strategy directly influences career decisions.iv
When asked what the greatest challenge can be to being a good community steward, Thieme suggested it is “overcoming the feeling of not enough resources — time, funds, etc. because, truthfully, there is enough. Even a small amount of dedicated time or resources donated can have a big impact.”
Boost Employee Morale
One way to boost your existing resources is to make use of the skills at your disposal — your talented workforce.
“Employees are a great resource for idea generation, time, talent and more,” Thieme added. “Ask around and start small. An effective program can build up and develop from many starting points.”
Manufacturing employees don’t just work in the community, they live in it and their families and friends live in it. They can be as invested in your brand’s community engagement strategy as anyone. The benefits to an employee-focused CSR includev:
- Stronger employee morale
- Creating a culture of corporate social responsibility from the top down
- Greater connection between the company investing in the community and the people who live there
- Greater sense of loyalty from the employee to the brand
- Increased likelihood of internal, upward advancement as employees stay longer with the company
- Opportunities for team-oriented volunteerism
- Creative outlets for employees to engage with their community
- A stronger push for individual engagement within the community, multiplying the impact of the brand’s engagement
“Take time to talk with your team — from the office to the shop floor — and find out what they support and what matters to them and their families, personally,” encouraged Daryl Adams, president & CEO of Spartan Motors in Charlotte. “If you support the community your team lives in and the initiatives they feel passionate about, you’re making an investment in your most important asset — your people.”
Plan on It!
You can highlight the connections between your business and the surrounding community at multiple MMA-supported events happening this fall:
- Open your doors to the community during Michigan Manufacturing Week (9/30-10/6/18) and National MFG Day on Friday, 10/5/18.
- Network with fellow manufacturers at MMA’s Ballots & Brews regional meetings in communities across the state!
- Share your stories of community engagement and celebrate the MFG Community Impact Award during the MFG Excellence Awards in East Lansing on 11/8/18.
Whether you have a global footprint or are just looking to build brand recognition, developing a corporate social responsibility strategy can be a worthwhile tool for success. Your community is more than just where you work; it’s a focal point of your brand’s reputation, a source of next generation talent and a way to strengthen your connection with existing employees. When you build on that relationship, your company’s potential may be limitless. It just has to start with you.
“There are multiple reasons community engagement should be important to manufacturers, including the fact that it is simply the right thing to do,” said Aultman. “Giving back and serving your community is an essential part of owning a company — we all have expectations to meet; a social responsibility.”
For more information on local programs and ways to boost your CSR strategy, contact MMA’s communications team at 517-487-8533.
- Nielsen, Doing well by doing good: Increasingly, consumers care about corporate social responsibility, but does concern convert to consumption?, June 2014.
- Deloitte, The 2017 Deloitte millennial survey: Apprehensive millennials: Seeking stability and opportunities in an uncertain world, 2017.
- doublethedonation.com/tips/why-corporate-social- responsibility-is-important/