The Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence – better known as Manex – is a powerhouse in manufacturing in California. Through training, consulting, and eco-system building, it’s helped ensure that manufacturing in California stays not just viable, but thriving.

From Lean Manufacturing, Leadership, and Sales and Marketing training to Digital Factory Transformation, Manex helps companies compete at a high level, and ensures that the region has a robust manufacturing and manufacturing leadership talent pool. Creating this talent pool is an imperative not just to creating and but to maintaining and growing jobs in the area.

MakeWorkSpace is excited to be partnering with Manex: Manex has established a competitive/by-application scholarship program that provides memberships to MWS for emerging industrial/product designers, small-batch manufacturers, and modern inventors. Learn more about the application process here.

Gene Russell, President, and CEO of Manex, recently shared more about his journey and the role of manufacturing and Manex.

Tell us more about Manex - which is now about to enter its 25th year. 
Yes, 2020 is our 25th year as a non-profit manufacturing center in Northern California.  We have engaged with 50-100 companies in each of those 25 years and with thousands of employees.  Our work is project-based and we seek to improve many, many important metrics in these companies so that they can survive, grow, prosper and hire employees.  

Our original role was focused on operational excellence, but in the past seven years, we have also moved into strategy consulting which is my background.  We are currently on a three-year path to bring automation strategy and technology to the smaller companies so that they can compete nationally and globally.  

We have a diverse range of people and interests who work with, and support us: our eco-system has always included economic developers, cities, universities, community colleges, and officials in Sacramento and Washington DC.  We have strong bipartisan support for what we do and how we do it.

How do you see Manex evolving? 
Through our partnerships with CMTC and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership ( ) as well as many commercial business partners, we’re looking to stay ahead of the curve in our 3-5 year strategy plans.  We want to identify and quickly bring the latest and greatest to our small and midsized manufacturers, to keep them here and growing.  We work with large numbers of clients across many verticals so we have a very good feel for what’s going on and what is going to be needed in both months and years.  I would say we are a good manufacturing seismograph way before a trend makes the news or is published in a study.

What do you think is the potential of manufacturing in urban centers like ours? 
The greater Bay Area and Sacramento Region have a rich history in making.  From shipbuilding, automobiles, EV’s, the first computers, great medical device  innovations, and more to small family-owned prosperous companies.  That’s what we have the passion to protect, nurture and help create at Manex.  The passion for design, innovation, and actual production spreads the wealth, creates middle-class families.  

All that being said, I’m imagining that there are some significant challenges that come from operating in high-cost areas like the Bay Area. What are some of the difficulties here, and what do those difficulties mean?
For about 40 years California has been viewed as a state in which it is difficult to do business.  For all California businesses including manufacturing, local, regional and state leaders are being asked to address business tax treatment; extraordinarily high energy costs; labor costs growing faster than those of competing states; legal reform; clarity on national vs. local immigration laws; the high costs of permitting; and restrictive land use and zoning.  

There’s also the soft metric of “quality of life” that has deteriorated dramatically.  And we all know about affordable housing, high cost of living, high personal income taxes.  These are real challenges that cannot be swept under the rug or ignored as we continue to shed business and industry.  

The manufacturers who remain want to be here, want to live here or it makes sense from a supply chain distance standpoint. These categories include food processing, bakeries, machine shops, metal shops and others. In addition, the highly ranked Universities churn out people that are hard to find elsewhere, and the National Labs are both creators and buyers of sophisticated brazing, machining and 3D printing technology.  The petrochemical plants have a long history in the Bay Area and are examples of industries that also tend to be localized like cement, construction materials.

We need help to keep this going: we need to understand that all we see around us from parks, to roads, to trails and beautiful skylines are created by industry and business, either directly or through taxation.  Let’s not kill the golden goose of the Golden State.  Let’s build it up, piece by piece.

So how did you come to join and lead Manex?  
I am a consumer products professional that started in telecommunications which quickly morphed into the consumer electronics sector when it went retail after the deregulation in 1983.  I’ve also worked in major appliances which are commonly referred to as “white goods” and home décor.  I started in a tiny Sears Catalog franchise store in the small town of Lampasas Texas at the age of 15 and fell in love with products, design, and selling.  I won marketing student of the year for the State of Texas in the DECA program and was flown to Chicago to have lunch with the then President of Sears, A. Dean Swift.  That lunch meeting was instrumental in cementing my college and career path up to and including today.
And what attracted you to manufacturing? 
As a natural offshoot to loving the retail trade, products, and design I fell quickly into manufacturing after graduating from UCLA with an Econ degree.  I was hired into the GMD Fast Track Management Program at AT&T and with divestiture ended up on the deregulated side, founding PacTel Communications and PacTel Products with manufacturing partnerships in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.  Eventually, we moved into Hong Kong and later when China opened into Shenzhen. One of our largest partnerships was with Goldstar now LG Korea.
What gets you most excited about the year ahead?
Manufacturing will change more in the next 5 years than it has the previous 50 years.  That is exciting.  If you love design, product development and manufacturing there are reasons everywhere to be excited.

Clients such Maven’s Creamery excites me as much as the rocket ship parts that Vacuum Process Engineering is building.  

In fact, I’m hungry now after all these questions.  I think I’ll grab a pretty little Mavens ice cream sandwich while I think about that rocket ship part, or that spring for the EV, or that anti-gravity treadmill……
Images courtesy of Manex

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