Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the rebirth of the rail industry in the U.S. But in the last few days I participated in what I believe to be the beginning of re-establishing the supply base that will support next generation rail across America.
On February 8th in Sacramento, CA and on February 14th in Chicago, IL, MEP working with our local affiliates—California Manufacturing Technology Consultants (CMTC) and Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence (Manex) in California and Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center in Chicago—hosted two Next Generation Supply Chain Connectivity Forums. The forums were organized to support the U.S. Department of Transportation’s goal of 100% U.S. made rail equipment for next generation rail opportunities. They brought together large multi-national rail equipment manufacturers with interested U.S. manufacturers considering opportunities in the rail industry supply chain.
It was fascinating to see how eager everyone was to make a connection! Combined, the two forums were attended by over 300 representatives from more than 200 companies vying to learn about the business opportunities in High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail and to meet with the eight to twelve railcar and locomotive Original Equipment Manufacturers that sent up to 5 representatives each to attend.
Folks, this was networking on steroids! In fact, DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari and Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo, who spoke at the forum on February 14 (Valentine’s Day), commented that it was like hosting business-oriented “speed dating!” The key to making it all work and to making sure every supplier attending had the opportunity to meet with at least two major rail equipment manufacturers was the one-on-one sessions. Each company had an opportunity to sign up for at least two 10-minute meet and connect appointments after the general sessions. To signal when an appointment was over and the next one started we used a chime in California and a cowbell in Chicago! How cool is that!
I can’t tell you exactly how the rail industry supply chain formed back in the early 1800’s when the first steam locomotive was built in the U.S., but I do know somehow it started when people got together around a business opportunity. That is what I think we, MEP together with help from our colleagues at the Federal Railroad Administration, were able to accomplish at these two initial forums. And this is just the beginning; a spark that I humbly hope will be part of a profound economic recovery for America.