Innovation & Planning to Win in South Carolina Manufacturing

McNair Law Firm, P.A. sponsored the most recent InnoVision Forum covering the subject of flexible and innovative ways businesses can respond to customer demands, while maintaining cost effectiveness and being timely.  That may sound like a tall order, but many examples were illustrated to prove that firms in the Upstate and Midlands regions of South Carolina are doing just that.

Gary Tompkins, President and CEO of The Kidder Group, a professional recruiting firm that specializes in technically superior engineers and managers, as well as seasoned executives, moderated the Forum and introduced the panel.

Gary Tompkins, President and CEO of The Kidder Group

Gary Tompkins moderated a very successful InnoVision Forum on Manufacturing

Will Franks, President of ICON Business Associates, has enjoyed a successful career that has positioned him in the leading edge of various continuous improvement and LEAN methodologies, creating significant value for many companies.  Mr. Franks discussed a few of the trends he is seeing in the manufacturing world today.  There is currently a shift from being a LEAN manufacturer with an internal focus, to having a customer-driven focus (external).  Franks also noted that there is a change in philosophy relative to off-shoring jobs.  He cited several examples where companies are relocating foreign facilities back to the United States.  GE will be creating 400 new jobs when their water heaters are made in the USA (from China), and NCR is also moving 260 jobs from China to Georgia.  The third trend Franks has noticed is the “demand driven approach” to business.  Rather than pushing product, pull product.  The “pull” process will drive operational “nightmares” to the surface rather quickly, and force manufacturers to analyze and make the necessary corrections.  Finally, Franks mentioned that savvy manufacturers are expanding the LEAN manufacturing techniques to other areas within the company, including, accounting and finance, marketing, sales, HR, etc.

Ryan Harrison is an Advanced Concept Engineer with TTI, North America.   Ryan has a unique background, possessing both a BFA, Drawing/Ceramics (UNC/Greensboro) and a MID, Industrial Design (NC State).  Ryan is the rare individual who is able to draw upon his creativity, and has the capability and skills to put it into form.  Ryan urged businesses and manufacturers to optimize the entire R&D process from the get-go.  Ryan’s list for improvement within the manufacturing process is impressive, and might be considered experimental thinking for many companies, but he encourages firms to give consideration to his recommendations:

  1. Hire creative, intelligent people, and let them loose doing their “thing”.
  2. Hire people who can spot opportunities and forming trends.
  3. Consider the environment within which these folks will work–promote collaboration through the correct furnishings, providing lots of white board surface for spontaneous design thought. This group is constrained when locked in a cubicle–creative thoughts demand partnership and room to co-work, brainstorm and design.
  4. Research, research, research!  Review all the research available, and take advantage of resource groups like Epinions( Survey customers, potential users and non-users.
  5. Keep your finger on the pulse of what is next.  Frequent sources including, KickStarter(, TEDx ( ), Gizmodo(, etc.
  6. Use the product/item yourself.  And watch others use it.  Put yourself in the “end-user” position and determine what is good, difficult, hard, easy, messy, etc. about the product.
  7. Look outside your core to determine feasible new products.
  8. Build and refine.  Use outside vendors to help you with the most up to date technology in materials.  Embrace Rapid Prototyping.
  9. Share.  With your team.  Within your company.  Ask for feedback.  Refine if necessary.
Cycle of Innovation

The Innovation Cycle, courtesy of PDMA

Joining PDMA ( provides opportunities for professional development, education, experience, networking and recognition. Finally, Ryan stressed that it is vital for companies to understand the difference between Product Development and R&D.

Melanie Sudduth and Chris Wayne from the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership provided information to the group about SCMEP’s Strategic Growth Acceleration program, which was designed specifically for small to mid-sized companies looking to grow.  It is the only program to provide immediate improvements in sales and marketing, and establishes a pipeline for future growth ideas.  SCMEP is a 501(c)3, not-for-profit group with five service areas within the state.  (Not surprisingly, Greenville is the largest service area within the state, with over 1200 manufacturers residing in the county.)

An affiliate of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), SCMEP operates under the US Dept of Commerce to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness.SCMEP’s focus is on supplying small to mid-size South Carolina companies with the training, tools and processes businesses need to be more competitive in today’s increasingly demanding global economy.

Chris shared shared lots and lots of interesting facts and statistics.  In fact, I could write a whole article detailing his presentation, and I might just do that someday.  He is a wealth of information, and South Carolina businesses are able to tap into him and his strategic thought processes by contacting him at, or, 864-414-8458.  Businesses are encouraged to take full advantage of SCMEP.  Chris was kind enough to share three” must reads” with the group:

Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy-Highly Recommended Read

Outliers - The Story of Success

The Outliers is another “must read” according to Chris Wayne.


The Shallows, written by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr examines what the Internet is doing to our brains in The Shallows.


There is so much happening in the Upstate of South Carolina!  InnoVision is in the middle of it all.  The InnoVision Forums are knowledge exchange events on a variety of topics dealing with innovation.  Our Forums feature presentations from past InnoVision Award Winners and other cutting edge leaders in a collaborative, discussion friendly setting.  Whether interested in professional development or interaction with some of South Carolina’s game-changers, InnoVision Forums are perfect for everyone.


Greenville Marketing Lab partners, Wendy Lynam and Martha Winebarger, are bringing online and offline together — face to face — to connect on the local level. We are passionate about helping local businesses develop successful and innovative strategies to help build their brand, improve their sales and meet their objectives. The partners are proud to serve on the advisory board of InnoVision.