Innovation in Your Own Backyard

Starting in 1944, Hanover, Pennsylvania based Emeco manufactured the original standard issue 1106 Navy chair. Used throughout the Navy as the chair of choice, it was the first to be made from 80 percent recycled aluminum. Despite being the standard bearer for an entire armed service department, rising costs and changing demand put the company on the brink of closure by the late 1990s.

But in the midst of its darkest hour, owner Gregg Buchbinder discovered that architects Frank Gehry and Norman Foster were long standing customers, attracted by the chair’s clean design, look and durability. They ordered the chairs factory direct and included them in many of their client design projects. Under Buchbinder’s direction, EMECO quickly repositioned its place in the market from government chair supplier to high-end furniture designer and manufacturer.

In 2006, Emeco joined with Coca-Cola to recreate the original Navy chair using a novel manufacturing process. Now made from entirely recycled plastic bottles (111 to be exact) the 111 Navy chair was re-born. The new production process allows for custom forms, designs and colors. The chair was featured at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair – a long way from the supply lockers in a Navy store room.

Carolina Mattress Guild
This example falls under the “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger” category. Shortly after opening a new manufacturing facility within Carolina’s famed furniture cluster region, Carolina Mattress Guild owners Kathryn and Neil Grigg’s new building burned to the ground. All equipment and inventory were lost. Soon their customer base followed suite.

Faced with the prospects of financial collapse, not only did the Grigg’s bootstrap enough cash to get things rolling again, they appropriately developed the first of its kind fire resistant mattress fabric. Call it poetic justice or just plain innovation, the Griggs found a new market from their own ashes. Today, the company continues to grow and expand with eco-friendly products and fire resistant fabric technology. In 2009 they opened a second facility in Orlando, Florida.

Innovation and new market opportunities need not be revolutionary. They can lie within an existing product and client base. In the case of Emeco it was simply applying a traditional product to a new market sector. The Carolina Mattress Guild leveraged and extreme operational challenge into a chance to apply a novel value-add improvement, creating new market demand and growth.

Similar opportunities no doubetly exist among our traditional industry and community’s across the country. Don’t wait for extreme circumstances to produce the goods. Economic development intermediaries can facilitate working groups and innovation forums to fast-track new market opportunities. While the lure of the big attraction is intoxicating, the immediate growth may already be in your own back yard.

For the full story on Emeco’s manufacturing process, click here

For more information on the Carolina Mattress Guild, click here

Poll Results: Greatest Economic Challenge Over the Next 20 Years

Last month in our Economic Architecture newsletter, we started a poll series where we ask important questions facing economic development community. Our first question was “What do you think our greatest economic challenge will be over the next 20 years?” One thing never defined was the word “our.” Some participants may have viewed the question as a regional question, others may have viewed it as a global question…or anywhere in between. We were pleased that one area the Fourth Economy team is focusing on — water — was selected as one of the two highest-rated challenges. Our team has constructed two reports on the topic: “Capturing the Storm: Profits, Jobs, and Training in Philadelphia’s Stormwater Industry” for SBN Philadelphia and “Pittsburgh’s H2Opportunity” for the World Environment Day Partnership. What’s also interesting to note is the large number of individuals who selected “other” as a response to the question. We asked those who selected the “other” option to qualify their response with the item they feel will be the most pressing issue over the next 20 years. Here’s a few of the additional thoughts we received on “other” economic challenges over the next 20 years:

  • Educating and empowering our youth, so that America can regain worldwide respect
  • Increasing scarcity of resources (rare earth metals, fossil fuels, etc.)
  • Reducing the national debt
  • Energy Prices/reliability
  • Lack of cooperation and collaboration

All great responses! Did you forget to respond or have some additional insight on what YOU think should be on the list? Leave a note in the comments below. Out first poll saw responses from all across the U.S. and we are excited to keep asking questions to drive the fourth economy. Be sure to take this month’s poll: What do you think of your state’s economic development budget?