Originally published at The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Written by: Fatima Hussein

DAYTONA BEACH — Manufacturers in Volusia and Flagler counties saw strong growth in 2014 with several landing record or near-record orders that have prompted them to step up hiring and/or expand their facilities.

2014-01-17-THOM-3_ppTom Hayden, the VMA manufacturing alliance’s newly installed board chairman for 2015 and 2016, would like the organization to help local manufacturers continue to grow by addressing potential obstacles, including the need for skilled workers.

The VMA is also celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

Hayden most recently left his job at Daytona Beach-based Teledyne Oil & Gas, where he worked for more than six years in a number of roles, including director of product data management.

He is now working to create a business called Dynamic Business Enterprises that he plans to launch this year.

He spoke to The News-Journal about his goals for the coming year as VMA chairman:

What is your first order of business as chairman of the VMA and what are some of the biggest changes you foresee for the organization during your two-year term?

The top business priority for 2015 is marketing the value of the VMA to a level never before attempted, a virtual rebirth of the VMA with a new website and social media presence, a simplified, memorable four-point vision, and an expanded board of directors to make all our ideas happen. The VMA is the No. 1 resource for manufacturers in the region, and its priorities are education, relevance and growth. Education to build a skilled workforce through best practices and scholastic programs, relevance by serving the professional needs of our membership, and growth by connecting our members to new customers and suppliers in the region.

What is the biggest challenge facing Volusia-Flagler area manufacturers today?

Far and away the need for a skilled workforce. The (2007-2009) Great Recession has taught us all that being lean and efficient is not a “nice to have” but a top priority. It’s not enough to have a great product. The ability to design and manufacture with speed and precision is the key to being competitive and staying competitive. The skills to do this can be hard-sought, and the VMA is focused on supporting educational programs at the scholastic level, as well as existing workforce programs to share best practices. Another area we’ll promote strongly is internships, by connecting businesses with students who are learning the new technologies needed by the industry.

How are falling gas prices affecting manufacturers?

It’s a double-edged sword. Low prices make things like transportation cheaper, but low prices can also suppress areas of the economy dependent upon the revenues from traditional energy sources like oil and gas. Luckily, the makeup of our manufacturing base in the region allows most of our companies to see an advantage with falling gas prices.

What are members biggest concerns in this new year?

The biggest concern is that we put outstanding effort into our programs and then members may miss out on the value because they didn’t hear about it or didn’t have time to participate. That’s why the marketing effort this year is so important. The board is comprised of industry experts in manufacturing, finance, HR (human resources), education, and many other areas. Our programs will be designed to suit our members’ needs and available time. If our members and the community don’t receive that full benefit with their participation, then we will have missed an important goal.

How often do you communicate with Mark Andrews, the VMA’s immediate past-chairman, and what policies of his do you intend to continue?

It’s incredibly fortunate that Mark and I have a common philosophy so it’s been an easy transition for me to chairman this year. We’ve talked a lot about the long-term vision of the organization, and I think the greatest tool he brought to the VMA is the driving need to look long into the future and dream the big dream. What does the VMA want to ultimately accomplish? His vision was to become the preeminent manufacturers association in Florida. I carry that vision, though some have said we may already be there. Whether or not that’s true yet, we’re going to make good on that expectation.