October 31, 2014  

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Southern Miss Lean Enterprise Center Helps Grow Mississippi’s Economy

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Jeanette James of Pioneer Aerospace in Columbia, Miss. works on a troop harness used by the U.S. military’s airborne troops. The company, which employs 340 people from a 11 Mississippi counties, has become more efficient and profitable with help from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Lean Enterprise Center. (Photo courtesy of Pioneer Aerospace)

Retention and expansion of existing businesses is a key strategy in economic development and, in this knowledge-driven economy, universities are in a prime position to make significant contributions.

Mississippi’s manufacturers, now more than ever, must be efficient and profitable to succeed in a competitive global market, and The University of Southern Mississippi’s Lean Enterprise Center (LEC) is helping them do just that.

“We’re helping Mississippi companies improve their bottom line, and in the process increasing awareness of the benefits of Lean practices,” said center director Ty Posey.

The Lean Enterprise Center’s mission is to help manufacturers in the state improve competitiveness through understanding and implementation of lean principles, from the company office to the shop floor. Lean principles are components of a popular management strategy designed to meet customer expectations while reducing time and errors between customer order and factory shipment.

The center’s services are paying great dividends for its clients, said former director Steve Miller, now with the university’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. “What the center provides is not only cost savings, but the right investments in people and equipment,” said Miller. “I believe that captures the true essence of economic development.”

The numbers bear out Miller’s words. During a national survey conducted by the MEP in the fourth quarter of 2009, four Mississippi manufacturers who secured services from the Lean Enterprise Center reported a total quantified dollar impact of more than $4 million, which includes an increase in sales, retained sales and cost savings.

A jobs impact of 35, which includes positions gained and retained, was also reported, as were positive numbers in infrastructure investment and workforce practices.

Pioneer Aerospace in nearby Columbia, Miss. is one of these companies. It produces parachute systems and other products for the U.S. military. According to the survey, it enjoyed a $500,000 increase in sales and creation of five new jobs.

Chris Powell, director of operations for Pioneer Aerospace, credits the services of Lean Enterprise Center for helping his company achieve those numbers.

“In 2000, we found ourselves struggling with changes in our industry and our customer demands,” he said of the company, which began in the early 1930s as Reliant Manufacturing and now employs 340. “Quality issues, cost reductions, short lead times and an aging workforce made it difficult for us to compete.”

After the company engaged the LEC’s assistance, Powell said Pioneer Aerospace went from a piece rate manufacturing plant to a highly efficient, lean production facility. He praised the center’s direct, hands-on training with employees, which in one instance helped reduce production lead time from 29 to seven days.

Hands-on training and practical applications of the techniques and tools of lean manufacturing were also especially helpful, he said, with increased demand for the company’s products due to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“The experience and knowledge we’ve gained from the LEC has changed our company’s culture at all levels, and enabled our employees to be empowered with lean thinking and committed to improving the company’s performance,” Powell said.

Founded in 2001 through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), the Southern Miss LEC is supported through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, which promotes innovation and industrial competitiveness. The center’s services include consultation and customized on-site applications and workshops using Lean principles. Outcomes include reduced inventory, production lead time and costs, thereby increasing capacity, productivity, profits and the potential for higher sales volumes.

To learn more about the Southern Miss LEC and its services, contact Posey at 601.266.4607.