By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
As noted in the first article in this series, Ed Steinebach, General Manager of Eagle Bend Manufacturing, Inc., in Clinton is, as we say, “not from these parts.”
Yet, less than three years after arriving from Michigan to lead the Tier One automotive supplier, he’s a convert who is upbeat about the region and its assets, even as he realistically assesses some of its challenges.
“For me and my family, it’s a breath of fresh air coming here,” Steinebach says. The region is now home to other family members including his grandchildren.
Steinebach is clearly a driven, problem solving executive who focuses on goals and metrics. He’s been in manufacturing for nearly 35 years, so he’s worked in a variety of environments and faced a number of challenges, including those he inherited at Eagle Bend.
Steinebach produces results. Just look at some of his team’s accomplishments in the short time he has led the Eagle Bend operation. The subsidiary of Magna International was recently awarded the TS16949 Certification, Ford Q1 (which was reinstated after losing it in 2011), and GM Quality Service Award. Earlier this year, Eagle Bend won a prestigious Automotive News “PACE” Award for a one-piece hot stamp door ring.
So, when he talks about the region and its assets for manufacturing, one should take note.
For an automotive parts manufacturer, having access to the materials expertise at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is a significant advantage as reflected in the work that led to Honda soon becoming Eagle Bend’s largest customer.
Steinebach is also following ORNL’s research into low cost carbon fiber and the evolution of the broader use of aluminum in vehicles, particularly with the nearby ALCOA facility.
“All of this research is so important,” he says.
On the all-important workforce front, Steinebach has conflicting views.
“I’ve been in industry for more than 30 years, and this is the best workforce I’ve worked with,” Steinebach says. “The culture is a lot different down here.”
Yet, like many manufacturers in the area, he talks about skills that are tough to find locally.
“It’s difficult getting controls engineers,” he says, quickly expanding the need to electrical and industrial engineers.
“Engineers and skilled trades are a (recruiting) dilemma,” Steinebach acknowledges. He and his team look to other industry sectors and other regions. Eagle Bend has also just restarted its own, self-funded apprenticeship program to help meet the need for controls engineers.
What does the region need to do?
Steinebach says that the education community “has good efforts, but they are a bit piecemeal. We need a Center of Expertise. That’s a challenge that needs to be looked at.”
For a guy who has only been here less than three years, it’s clear that Steinebach loves the company, the automotive sector, and this area.
“It’s a healthy business . . . (one that’s) fun to be a part of,” he says.
One suspects Steinebach is going to have the same sort of impact on the region that he has produced at Eagle Bend. After all, Innovation Valley is now home.