Collaboration: The Seeds to WIRE-Net's Success

A Q&A with John Collins reveals how the community, public sector, and private sector worked together to secure the organization's future

WIRE-Net's 25th Anniversary

How did your company become engaged with WIRE-Net?

I happened to be moving Albrecht Systems from West 150th and I-71 to a building on Elmwood Avenue (in Cleveland). John Colm called on me in 1990 during the rehab/remodel phase and their mission made sense, as many of the same present-day manufacturing issues were in play: skilled labor to grow your business, City of Cleveland bureaucracy constraints to growth, and neighborhood infrastructure challenges.

From 1996-1999 when you were Board President, what was the Cleveland economy like, and how was your business doing?

The 90's were a very good business period for Albrecht. We never slowed down, even during the 1992 recession. We continued to grow and were just about at capacity until 1999. Overall, the Cleveland economy was rebounding. Not huge growth, but good growth for the manufacturing community on both sides of town. When I was chair, the big issue was the skilled labor shortage.

During your term, do you remember any one initiative or milestone that stands out in your mind?

During my term, I believe John and company initiated training courses for machinists and frontline supervisors, and continued with infrastructure improvement lobbying. The reconstruction of Elmwood Avenue and Berea Road/ West 117th Street were milestones John, his staff and all the interested stakeholders should be proud of.

How would you characterize your relationship with John Colm?

John was very easy to work with during my tenure on the board. While I shared many of his liberal views (except for the living wage), I was always amazed and respectful of how he navigated his course and vision of the future with a bunch of Type-A business owners!

How, in your opinion, has manufacturing changed today?

The demise of my company started in 1998-1999 as many Cleveland and northeast Ohio manufacturing companies, which were our bread and butter, were sold, merged, relocated or just closed. The pie shrunk dramatically for people in our industry. Add NAFTA, CAFTA, China and 9/11 and you have the economic disaster set in motion during the last decade for manufacturing companies, and the associated service business.

What are you active in today?

I have an active role in a Rhode Island VC investor group called "Cherrystone Angels." I also do volunteer work as a business counselor with SCORE and a few other non-profits. Ironically, a current project is helping start a FAB LAB with the Providence-based Met School to purchase CNC equipment to train high school students in future manufacturing techniques.

"WIRE-Net is a national model for revitalizing and maintaining urban industrial neighborhoods. Employer involvement is critical to its success."

John Collins, WIRE-Net Board Chairman, 1996-1999

Based on your knowledge of WIRE-Net, how best can WIRE-Net members utilize their memberships?

If you do not get involved, you cannot complain. WIRE-Net is a national model for revitalizing and maintaining urban industrial neighborhoods. Employer involvement is critical to its success.

Can you summarize your thoughts on the VALUE of WIRE-Net? Do you think the organization has made an imprint on Cleveland manufacturing?

The WIRE-Net model of community/private sector/public sector collaboration to tackle common economic challenges works. Starting with a few CDC's, neighborhoods and employers, I am very impressed with WIRE-Net's growth and its sphere of influence after 25 years. In spite of some vicious economic cycles over those years WIRE-Net has more than survived. It has grown. John Colm's leadership of the many hundreds of volunteers and stakeholders, and his personal commitment to excellence, have made a difference.

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