After acquiring Nuvar Inc. in May from its long-time owner, Amy Sparks is executing on growth plans for the Holland-based manufacturer and developer of finished goods primarily for the contract furniture industry. While she’s mindful of some softening in the broader market, Sparks remains “cautiously optimistic” for the economy in 2019.
What’s your outlook for 2019 for West Michigan and the manufacturing industry?
Overall, confidence is still fairly strong and optimistic in our outlook. Most of us are feeling there’s going to be a little bit of softening, and it’s just a little bit of a gut feel. Hopefully it’s not going to be anything close to what we saw in ’08 and ’09, but we’re seeing just a little bit of slowing throughout the year in different sectors. As I look into 2019, I’m looking at more of the same, with the impetus on us to really look at how we can grow our market share in order to grow into the coming year and the future years.
What indicators are you watching and using to gauge your plans for the future?
(With) automotive and contract furniture, you’re kind of the first into a recession and the last one out because you’re more of a discretionary spend. I’ve tended to watch those to give me earlier signals on where we’re headed. I feel like there’s a little bit of softening going on. I’m not feeling it’s catastrophic. I’m not feeling that there’s this huge readjustment, but there might be a little bit of one coming on the automotive side.
How is the office furniture industry shaping up for next year?
We’re still hearing a lot of activity from our customers and a lot of opportunity that’s out there. So I would call that on the reassuring side. There’s been so much change and consolidation within the industry, and a lot of our great OEMs are purchasing some smaller companies and specialty companies to add to their portfolios. It’s going to be interesting in this next couple years to see how that transformation impacts the market as they’re evolving.
For Nuvar, is that consolidation a threat or an opportunity?
We hope that that’s going to bring additional opportunities with us with some great partners that we have and partners we’re looking to add on as well, where they are constrained for capacity or capability maybe, or just … need a partner that’s qualified to come alongside of them and help make their phenomenal products and be able to get those into market quickly. That’s where we would come into play.
How does the talent shortage shape growth plans for Nuvar?
Definitely, we are in growth mode and the support that we’re going to need, the fantastic talent, is a scarce resource. We’re looking at ways we can automate where we can, and it’s not to get rid of any employee or any job. We still fill those positions that we can, and then provide a probably higher-skilled position for the phenomenal employees that we do have, adding to their growth and trajectory.
Does automation become a long-term solution to the challenge of finding skilled labor?
For a lot of what we need to do, I would say the easier answer is if there were 300 people available, fantastic, let’s get them in here and get them working. But the fact of the matter is they’re not available. So now we have to ask the question: How do we get this done? How do we grow and continue to serve our customers if the talent isn’t there? You’ve got to find a way to automate some portion of the process to fill those roles that we can’t fill with qualified labor.
What implications does the talent crunch have for efforts to lure new businesses to the region?
As we hear a new big company come in, and if they were going to put in 1,000 jobs, all of the great businesses around here are going, ‘Oh, goodness’ because they’re going to pull from their workforce. It’s just balancing that, and trying not to take any opportunities away. It’s just how do we continue to grow.
Should economic development shift from company attraction to talent attraction?
A lot of the discussions we’re having at CEO roundtables and with the economic development groups in Grand Rapids and here on the lakeshore is changing that focus a little bit from attracting businesses. We’ve done such a great job of that. It’s now how do we attract talent and families to move and stay within the West Michigan areas. We’ve got such a wonderful community from Grand Rapids to the lakeshore. Now how do we get more people to come to our area?
Interview conducted and condensed by Joe Boomgaard.