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At the heart of Britain's plans to recover from recession is strong growth in manufacturing. Sarah de Souza-Ingle went in search of some Essex firms proving that the country's entrepreneurial engine room is still purring along
While it looks like the recession is behind us, everyone is still aware that todays business environment remains tough and its toughest of all if you are a small to medium-sized business. The challenges of accessing finance, finding new markets and building skills and training to improve performance remain key concerns.
These firms will play a key role in creating the building blocks it is hoped economic recovery will be built on and optimists believe that 2011 will be a year when we hear more about business regeneration and economic growth. But can these good intentions become reality?
In Essex, lending a helping hand is The Essex Manufacturing Innovation and Growth Programme, or EMIG for short. It was set up to help try to mitigate the effects of the economic downturn in November 2008 and it is a project partnered by Essex County Council and the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), aiming to help small and medium-sized manufacturing companies (any firm with between ten and 250 employees) grow and develop their businesses.
Reaching the target
It is already two years into its three-year lifespan and so far it has helped more than 100 businesses. The aim is to reach 150 businesses in Essex and with almost a year to run, it should have no problems reaching that target.
Because the programme is fully funded with backing from Essex County Council and the governments Higher Education Funding Council for England, crucially, there is no cost to businesses when engaging with the programme.
EMIG works with a business to identify its core business values, make sure there are no barriers to company growth and help plan a direction for successful growth. The programme is delivered in three stages over a period of a few months, normally requiring about six days of management team time.
Firms which take part in the programme work with an experienced manufacturing practitioner to target and improve low-performing areas of their business and the ultimate aim is to ensure that resulting improvements in performance lead to increased competitiveness
and an increased profit line. Not a bad return for any business from zero investment!
Essex Larders is based at Pyes Farm in Great Dunmow. It is a small, family business that has been making handmade pies, quiches and puddings for retail outlets since 1980. It specialises in using locally-sourced ingredients and sells to London food halls, including Harrods and Fortnum and Masons, as well as restaurants, pubs, delis and farm shops. The firm took part in the EMIG programme last year and has been working with the team at EMIG to help develop and grow the business.
Jane Malins, managing director of Essex Larders, explains: After an initial assessment I was invited to go to Cambridge University, where IfM is based, and we worked on strategies to improve our marketing, as it was obvious that this was a priority. Having looked at the company organisation, our product groups and markets, the next workshops were a fascinating insight into how we could bring the company forward, concentrating on our strengths.
By the end, I had a concise project plan which has helped me to develop our brand, cut out several of our unprofitable products and find new customers all of which have helped us to increase our business and our profits. The workshops and plans we are now making are helping us at Pyes Farm to see a clearer and more positive future.
Maldon-based Boddingtons Plastics is one of the worlds leading manufacturers of thermoplastic meshes and nets. Its products can be found everywhere, from civil engineering and the construction industry to horticulture and tree planting. The company has always been keen to benefit from the latest manufacturing thinking and so saw EMIG as a good opportunity to benefit from free, impartial advice.
Maud Instone, resource director for the firm, explains: We had worked with the IfM before and had always found them very helpful. The fact that the scheme had the involvement of Cambridge University was an added incentive. It is very well respected and the opportunity to get some very intelligent, experienced people involved in what we do was a plus.
Under the scheme, practitioners from IfMs business unit worked with the company to explore how its planned Enterprise Resource Planning system could be expanded.
IfM came in and talked to all the senior members of staff about what we were trying to do and how we were trying to achieve it, while the workshops gave us a concrete action plan, adds Maud. We would regard the experience as positive and would certainly recommend this scheme to others.
Youngman Group Ltd is a leading provider of innovative access equipment and systems, such as access towers and specialist ladders, and is also based in Maldon. The company recently embarked on a programme to drive cultural change in the business and develop the
The aim was to support individuals and teams in making positive changes to working practices and systems. Working through the EMIG programme, with the IfM, the firm was provided with graduate engineers to process map its production processes. Chris Owen, Youngman Group Ltds commercial director, explains: The output from this has been exemplary and we have made, and will continue to make, the changes highlighted by the IfM.
Get in touch
If you think EMIG could help your business, contact Simon Maidment at email@example.com or call 01245 430350