Montgomery Business Journal

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Doug Jensen

High-Tech Tools for Industry

Doug Jensen is the president and CEO of Alabama Technology Network. He was recently interviewed by the Montgomery Business Journal’s David Zaslawsky.

Montgomery Business Journal: How many employees are there in the Alabama Technology Network (ATN)? Jensen: About 60.

How many centers/offices does the ATN have in the state? We have 19, and 14 are part of the actual ATN and some of those are multiple sites, but we also have three university partners.

Who are those university partners? The University of Alabama, Auburn University and Huntsville (the University of Alabama in Huntsville).

What are your responsibilities as the ATN president and CEO? I am to provide overall leadership of the ATN and make sure that we’re in compliance with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership – federal grant dollars that we receive. To build strategic partnerships with existing business and expand the ecosystem of the manufacturing sector here in Alabama.

What do you mean by the ecosystem of the manufacturing sector? Basically, what I mean by the ecosystem is that when you look at the all the industry that is in support of the manufacturing sector – our job is to support those business entities. If there are suppliers, supply chain, distributors, producers and, maybe in the case of the automotive sector, where you have the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), tier 1 (suppliers), tier 2, tier 3 – so when I talk about the ecosystem I talk about the whole manufacturing process in the state of Alabama.

Which also includes warehousing? Yes, and logistics. We even go outside of manufacturing, but manufacturing is our primary focus.

Before we go any further, how long have you been in your position? I’ve been here since August of 2015.

What are some of the common misconceptions you hear about ATN? I think many people perceive ATN as an IT (information technology) company. We do provide some IT services to our business partners in terms of training. I think the misconception is when they hear the term technology network they think of IT and primarily computer technology. That is not accurate.

What would be an accurate description? We are more of an industrial technology provider, working with industry – working with them on what their needs are to be competitive in a global market; competitive in the state of Alabama. We serve as a champion for manufacturers throughout the state. We support the state, regional and local manufacturers in partnerships. We can help them broker partnerships. We can help them identify resources that might be able to support them. Not only do we deliver services, but we can also provide a broker service to assist businesses with needs.

Is ATN similar to the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) agency? Do you piggyback on what AIDT does? The way I describe it – AIDT is incentives for new businesses coming to the State of Alabama.  They can provide workforce training, assistance, recruitment, etc., and they do an excellent job of that. The partnership is really critical because what ATN then picks up – once that business is established – then ATN becomes the service provider for them.

I thought that’s what AIDT does by responding to a company’s needs. They are really focused on new businesses. They bring a new business in and they establish a relationship with that business. They get them propped up and established. If there are ongoing needs beyond that, AIDT will make those referrals to ATN. Then we will work with that business as more of an established business or as a maturing business. In some cases, if a business is currently established and they are maybe expanding, then ATN or AIDT can provide services as that business is expanding.

Would you elaborate about the partnership between ATN and AIDT? The relationship between AIDT and ATN is a very important relationship because as you just described, sometimes there could be these shades of gray. Because of the close communication Ed Castile (AIDT director and deputy Commerce secretary) and myself have, we can make sure that we are addressing whatever the needs of the business community are.

AIDT is part of the Commerce Department while ATN is part of the Alabama Community College System. What is the impact of being a part of the Alabama Community College System? I think the leverage for that is critical. By ATN being part of the Alabama Community College System and all the community colleges spread out throughout the state there are opportunities for us to reach and serve businesses. We have platforms. We have resources. We have colleagues at all these colleges, so that if we need to reach out to help a business. The network of resources geographically and physically is very important.

How many community colleges are there? • I would say 26. Some of these ATN centers are at community colleges already and some are at the university partners. A couple of these are standalone locations. We are distributed statewide to create that delivery system that meets the needs of our businesses.

Talk about ATN and its national reach. ATN is part of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership under NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology.) There is a network all around the country of MEPs (Manufacturing Extension Partnerships). ATN is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership for the state of Alabama. Not only do we have a network within the state, but if one of our clients or one of our businesses needs resources or needs information, I have the ability to reach out to this entire national network to support businesses.

Do you have an example? • Maybe there is an issue in terms of telecommunications and maybe that is something that we don’t necessarily specialize in. That (specialization) could exist somewhere out in the national network.

You could still bring that expertise to the telecommunications company? Yes, I can connect them with that network. AIDT has a network they can tap into of like organizations through Commerce throughout the country. ATN has a different network. I think when you have these point organizations like AIDT and ATN and they are kind of the tip – understanding what’s all behind that is really critical and leverages the opportunity to serve our businesses. What’s important to note as well is that ATN historically has been nationally ranked consistently as one of the top MEP centers in the country.

Are there common issues and needs you are hearing from manufacturers, or is it industry specific? What ATN does is work with manufacturers to meet their needs. There are certain things that historically we have delivered that are important, but as the need changes we have the ability to adapt and reach out to that industry as well. The major things we focus on are: lean manufacturing, environmental health and safety, industrial maintenance, quality systems and engineering, innovation and sustainability.

Is there one aspect you see over and over again? The lean manufacturing is important to certain business sectors. Environmental health and safety – we do that a lot for the businesses.

What is the ATN process? We educate; provide outreach; we connect the gap where there is a need; and we provide support for workforce development. Incumbent worker training – if there is a certain skill set they have. We can customize training to meet the needs of our partner.

What are the fees for ATN services? There is a fee for service. A contract is put together based on what the costs are and that could be somewhat variable because we have to take into account how many staff we need to put in place; equipment involved; materials and supplies; etc. That is all priced out and presented to the client with a contract. Then what we do is work with the client to figure out what is the best way to make that happen.

What are the fee ranges for small and large companies? One of the ways we deal with the difference between small companies and large companies is that if we have small companies that need specific services, we’ll run what is referred to as open enrollment classes. If a company only has one or two employees, we can aggregate the need and then provide services to individuals based in a kind of a community or a group setting. Those are on our website. There are various prices for different courses. It’s not like a standard college tuition, where you pay X number for credits. It has to be based on the complexity, the need and the elements that are needed to deliver the training.

Talk about the organization’s mission “to provide industry and business the tools, training and resources to excel.” That is a short version of what we have discussed. It’s really about what do we need to ensure that the new, emerging and established manufacturing sector in the state of Alabama is positioned for growth opportunities to meet the needs of the economy. That’s what our mission is – to be in contact with that manufacturing base; to build those relationships; to identify what are the needs and challenges for growth opportunities; for expansion – so that they can either explore new markets, new technologies, reach out to maybe markets that they haven’t currently been in; help them with things like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration); ISO (International Organization for Standardization) – we’re an ISO organization. It’s really about what is the need of the customer and how do we leverage the assets that we talked about through our statewide network; our partnerships with our community colleges; partnership with AIDT; our partnerships with Commerce; our partnership with the national network of other MEPs; and how do we bring all that to our clients to help them be successful businesses.

Is the word out there so the manufacturing sector – large and small companies – knows about ATN and the services the organization provides? For any organization it’s difficult to communicate, and every organization faces that challenge of how do you tell your story.

This Q&A in the Montgomery Business Journal is one way. Exactly. What we’re doing today is part of telling the story. The other part of it is listening. It’s so important as you try to build relationships – listening. The key to me to relationships. It’s all about building relationships and then what happens is relationships start creating word of mouth with testimonials. Those testimonials start a communication process. We are involved with a number of major organizations here in the state. I serve on the AAMA (Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association). I also serve with BCA (Business Council of Alabama). We actively work with Manufacture Alabama. Through that networking opportunity is how we try to get the story out. Can we do a better job? Absolutely. Every organization, other than a few like Apple and Google (who) don’t need that, but it’s a continual process.

ATN is a fantastic resource that’s available, but how many manufacturing companies know about the organization? We’re well-known in those inner circles. We’re probably better known in those manufacturing communities than we are in the general public. One of the things we’re doing right now is what I would call market penetration and demographic analysis. We have just completed a study with our partner at Auburn University on where are the small manufacturers located in the state of Alabama. We are focusing on market understanding and market demographics and starting to focus on communications, our strategies to achieve a greater penetration in those areas (where the small manufacturers are clustered).

The smaller companies frequently don’t know what services are available. Absolutely.

What type of follow-up does the organization perform? • We track all of our projects. What’s also a very important part for us to focus on is our ROI (return on investment). The key for us is, because we are part of Manufacturing Extension Partnership, we are tracked and evaluated on what’s referred to as client impacts.

What are those impacts? Jobs saved, jobs created, retained sales, new sales, cost savings and client investment. When we engage in a contract with a company, at the end this information is surveyed and then reported to the federal government. The federal government has a contract with an independent, third-party company who follows up with these companies (ATN clients) and says, what were these impacts, because when you did the contract you needed to spell out here’s why we’re doing the contract to address one of these things. The independent (company) evaluates those impacts. The impacts are not subjective. This is the process that we go through – a three-step process. It is independently (done) and then you have the metrics. 

Alabama Technology Network 2015 Impacts

Clients served
349

Jobs created
361

Jobs retained
1,491

Increased and retained sales
$267 million

Cost savings
$19.4 million

Company investments
$21.5 million

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