Washington manufacturing is fractured into a multitude of industry-specific subsectors, each with their leading companies and figures. But if there’s a single all-encompassing manufacturing community in the state, Loren Lyon and Tom McLaughlin and the organizations they’ve led — Impact Washington and the Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound, respectively — would have to be counted among the most prominent and important.
As it happens, both are retiring from those positions. Lyon has already stepped down as head of the Bothell-based consultancy to small- and medium-size manufacturing companies. CAMPS hasn’t yet named a successor to McLaughlin.
Lyon inherited a going concern, but he helped boost Impact Washington’s services and programs through initiatives such as helping small food businesses dealing with tougher food-safety rules. “Learning about companies ranging from food processing to aerospace and helping them in specific ways to build in systems for continuous improvement was a dynamite experience,” Lyon says.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, was in on the founding of CAMPS as an organization to help many of those same small- and medium-size companies connect with one another to tackle common problems, including workforce availability and health care costs. Mentoring military veterans into manufacturing careers and establishing a health care trust for member companies count among the organization’s successes.
“The CAMPS journey has been tough at times and very challenging at times, but one of the most rewarding experiences in my career,” McLaughlin says. “I am around some of the smartest, sincere and entrepreneurial individuals in my entire career.”
Both Lyon and McLaughlin are optimistic about the future of manufacturing in Washington. Lyon, who has also been involved in the startup finance community, says entrepreneurial activity in the state continues to be robust. “The innovative ideas aren’t diminishing; they are growing. Manufacturing will continue to grow, but successful companies will need to be good to great,” Lyon says. “The global competition has forced American manufacturers to get going or get out. A part of this is unfortunate and certainly not always pleasant, but it offers a sort of natural selection that improves the overall long-term health of manufacturing in our country and state. Those companies that embrace change and engage their people as partners in their businesses have bright and exciting futures.”
Loren Lyon of Lyon Enterprises and Impact Washington
McLaughlin terms his outlook “cautiously good,” adding that “the markets for our companies’ products and services are very strong. We have excellent leaders in our companies, we are innovation leaders, we have a strong ‘can-do’ attitude and our results show this to be the case.”
The caution comes from the persistent problem of finding the next generation of manufacturing workers. “For more than a decade, I have seen and heard too many proposed training solutions that are not much different than what did not yield strong results over 10 years ago,” he says. “We need programs and solutions that are industry-driven and take into account our workforce demands are moving to more technical areas. Some training providers understand this and are adapting. However, the adapters are in a minority.”
Both Lyon and McLaughlin came to their most recent posts with long careers in industry, and they both retain a fascination with manufacturing. “We make something with teams of smart, cool people where there was nothing before,” Lyon says. “It is a sort of magic. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?”