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Automotive conference puts state in forefront

By LISA MONTI

The Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association is hosting the annual Southern Automotive Conference Oct. 5-7 at Beau Rivage in Biloxi.

MAMA Executive Director Don Stoegbauer said the conference will be an opportunity to put the state group “front and center” among fellow automaker groups from Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.

About 650 participants are expected to attend, up from about 450 when the conference was last held in Biloxi three years ago, he said.

Stoegbauer, who retired from Nissan’s Canton plant a few years ago, said the auto makers and major suppliers who attend the event have reason to be optimistic. The region is home to what is considered the fastest growing automotive industry in North America.

“The entire region is doing well,” he said. “Last year we saw record amounts of units manufactured and sold. This year the forecast and expectations are even higher. Our plants in Mississippi are positioned to do well in this flourishing market.”

Among the agenda items is a discussion among top industry executives spelling out their latest developments and best practices.

“We hope that people find value and learn something they can take back to their manufacturing sites,” Stoegbauer said.

A couple of sessions will look at the impact millennials now play in the industry and will have in the future. The topics include engaging the next generation of carmakers by better communication with the young members of the work force.

“The industry will be run by millennials in the next 10 or 15 years,” Stoegbauer said. “Everybody is trying to better understand what they want and need and to better position ourselves so we can be successful in the future.”

Shelley DuBois, with Hall Strategies of Nashville, the conference manager, said a big question in the automotive industry is how to attract young people to work in manufacturing jobs which now require higher skills than in the past.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, because the industry is much different than it was before,” she said. “We are also going to draw attention to cutting-edge innovation in the industry such as robotics on the factory floor.”

Another session is “Changing the Image of the Automotive Executive” in which panelists will discuss how diversification at the top level of a company can be beneficial to its corporate culture and bottom line.

“We are inviting women and minorities to talk about how to make the C-suite as diverse as the factory floor is,” DuBois said.

Other topics include advanced robotics on the factory floor and using big data to safeguard the supply chain. Recruiting top talent from rural areas will also be addressed.

Peter Ricchiuti, a Tulane University professor, will deliver the keynote address on current financial markets.

DuBois said a special feature on the agenda is the presentation of Stars of Southern Manufacturing Awards to three employees nominated by their employers for going above and beyond their jobs. “These are not executives but people who work on the factory floor and are the heart of their companies,” she said.

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