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The appeal of innovation

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For the last year, Correct Craft president and CEO Bill Yeargin has been working on the Manufacturing Council, a group of 25 business leaders who advise U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on a variety of manufacturing topics.

The council is organized into four committees: taxation, innovation, work force and energy. Yeargin serves on the innovation committee, although members get involved in all of the areas the council addresses.

In a Q&A in the upcoming May issue of Soundings Trade Only, Yeargin discusses the issues, concerns and solutions that the council has been focused on. It’s a good big-picture look at major problems facing U.S. manufacturers.

In addition, I recently asked Yeargin several questions more specifically related to our industry, including one on the skills gap and the difficulty in finding trained workers. He said that topic came up at a recent meeting with more than a dozen marine business leaders.

“Almost every one of the CEOs mentioned the inability to find good employees as their biggest issue,” said Yeargin, whose company builds Nautique boats. “It was interesting, though, that almost all the companies were willing to invest in training of people who would be willing to learn.”

Yeargin said he believes the skills gap in recreational marine is more related to “employability” skills than anything else. “If people are willing to show up, work hard, have a good attitude and be a team player,” he said, “the companies in our industry are willing to invest in training them.”

We also talked about innovation in the marine sector. I asked him whether the relatively small size of most marine companies favors innovation, given that they can move quickly on ideas without the bureaucracy and red tape associated with larger businesses in more capital-intensive industries.

“Smaller tends to be a little more entrepreneurial but also usually means less resources to invest,” he said. “All of us in our industry know that innovation sells boats. Currently there is a big push to make boats less expensive, but even less-expensive boats are still expensive for most people.

“I know this is a bit of a contrarian thought,” he continued, “but I believe an argument can be made that instead of trying to reduce content and compete on lower price, we should be focusing on a combination of innovation and making the boating experience better so people see the value in it.”

Yeargin said innovation has long been one of the strengths of the industry.

“We have all learned the importance of innovation to our industry,” he said. “It sells boats. Sometimes innovation adds to the price, and sometimes it lowers the price. As an industry, I believe we have learned that customers will pay for compelling innovation because it makes their boating experience better.”

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