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MAMA plans Aug. 9 press conference

New association targets auto manufacturing companies

Tennessee and Alabama have one. So does Kentucky. Soon after Nissan announced it was building a $930-million automotive assembly facility in Madison County, organizers in Mississippi decided to create its own. Automobile Manufacturing Association, that is.

Never mind the acronym. MAMA is a professional trade organization patterned after the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA). Newly organized by MAMA executive director Ken Barlow, also president and CEO of Ridgeland-based The DelKen Group, a human resource consulting firm, the association will hold its inaugural press conference at 9 a.m. Aug. 9 at 401 Fontaine Place in Ridgeland, when some of the board members will be revealed.

Steve Plumbly, president of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA), and Bernard Schroer, executive director of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, which was formed earlier this year, will be on hand.

At press time, about 25 groups had joined MAMA, less than a month after the association mailed 350 invitations to automotive-related companies in Mississippi and other states.

So far, Nissan isn’t one of them, even though the international automaker is aware of it.

“To begin with, the Tennessee group was a Nissan-sponsored organization,” said Jerry Palmer of Canton, a consultant to MAMA and former board member of TAMA. “There is no Nissan sponsorship with this group, but after we decided the association would be a good idea, we approached the Tennessee group in June in Franklin and told them of our plans. Ken and I explained to the board what we wanted to do and they endorsed us heartily and encouraged us to proceed.”

TAMA was formed in 1986, six years after Nissan announced plans to build an automotive plant in Smyrna, and several years before the Dechard plant was added. The association, initiated by Nissan, changed direction when the rest of the auto industry in the state was allowed to join, Palmer said.

“After I recruited Saturn to join, that made it a true automotive manufacturers association,” Palmer said.

Soon after Nissan announced plans to build a plant in Madison County, Palmer, former director of human resources and administration of Calsonic, parent company of CalsonicKansei, which will build two plants in Central Mississippi to produce components for the Nissan plant, approached Barlow about forming MAMA.

“Among other things, I was responsible for community relations and served as a member of the Tennessee auto group for a while and then later was ‘drafted’ to head the membership committee,” Palmer said. “Later, I was made a board member, responsible for membership and recruiting. I mentioned the idea to Ken and his staff that the services The DelKen Group provides lends itself to act in a capacity of executive director of that type of organization. He has experienced staff in place and doesn’t require the added expense of getting the organization up and running. After a while, it will stand on its own two feet, but in the beginning it needs to be nurtured and tutored and allowed to grow up.”

David Kirkpatrick of Business Development Outlook recently called the Southeast “auto alley.”

“When you think about automobile manufacturing in the U.S., the locale that first comes to mind is the motor city — Detroit, Mich. During the last decade, however, the Southeast has been quietly gaining on Detroit with an ‘auto alley’ of big-name automotive plants and a host of supporting auto industry manufacturing and supply companies. And the growth is showing no signs of slowing,” he wrote.

Rallying support from neighboring states has been instrumental in facilitating “auto alley.” TAMA, the Bluegrass Automotive Manufacturers Association in Kentucky and the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association often cross- communicate on issues that affect the automotive industry worldwide, said Plumley.

“Obviously, the automotive business is gaining strength here in the South, and the associations can work together in terms of industry issues from corporate average fuel economy to non-competitive issues like safety that have to do with the collective betterment of our products,” Plumley said.

Networking is a strong benefit of TAMA, Palmer said.

“You could pick up the phone and call one of the members and discuss common problems and maybe they had a solution to share,” he said. “The automotive business is a completely different industry than most industries in the U.S. To understand that might be one of the biggest challenges of new companies in the business.”

Barlow said the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) has been invited to join and to work closely with MAMA on common issues. But MMA has made it clear that its statewide organization with approximately 1,800 members is not affiliated with MAMA.

“We are not familiar with what the organization will do for its members,” said Jerry McBride, MMA president. “MMA has been representing all manufacturers, including automotive manufacturers, for 50 years and we plan on continuing to do that.”

Charles Doty, founder, president and CEO of Lextron Corp. of Jackson, who, in joint partnership with Visteon Corp. was recently named a first tier supplier to Nissan, said he would take a look at MAMA, but hasn’t decided to join.

“The MMA has done an outstanding job of representing business manufacturing interests around the state for quite some time,” Doty said. “I’m hoping the two organizations will complement each other or find a way to work together.”

J.C. Burns, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority said the state’s economic development division was not involved in the project.

“Associations can be a valuable tool in representing an industry’s interest,” Burns said. “We are pleased to see the enthusiasm being shown by the various interested parties associated with the Nissan project.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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