ORMOND BEACH — The VMA manufacturing alliance, which represents manufacturers throughout the Volusia-Flagler area as well as surrounding counties, recently added its 204th member, the most in its 36-year history.

Jayne Fifer, the alliance's president and CEO, recently spoke with The News-Journal. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

What was your previous membership high and during the Great Recession how low did your ranks fall?

We had 203 members in 1998. During the recession, we were down to 137 in 2009, the same year that Lou (Fifer's late husband who was the VMA's founding executive director) died. That was a real tough year, but look where we are now.

How many members have you added in the past year and what's been driving your growth?

We've had a net gain of 43 members over the last year. I attribute it to three things: 1. We're growing organically. By that I mean people who were in the VMA but left for other companies who weren't members but that they've convinced to join. 2. Our "Quick Take" surveys, which add tremendous value to being a member. If a member needs to know who offers a particular service or can make a certain part, we can survey members to see if there's anyone who can help. 3. Our robust education program to build awareness about careers in manufacturing at local schools.

Has the improving economy been a factor?

I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. Some (local manufacturers) are doing well but others aren't. We think it (the economy) is all or nothing, but nothing is ever that way. I think about my favorite book and movie of all time, "Gone With the Wind," where Rhett Butler as the Civil War was starting saw it as a financial opportunity. In manufacturing, you have to look at what's selling. Right now, the boating industry is doing well and probably the most consistent has been the medical industry. But some (industries) aren't doing as well.

What's your outlook on the state of manufacturing?

Back in the late 1990s, Volusia County had about 14,000 people employed in manufacturing. It got down to about 8,000 during 2008-09. Now it's back up to around 12,000. The heyday for manufacturing (in terms of people employed) was back in the 1970s. We're not ever going to go back to that. We have to be based in reality. Technology is allowing companies to do more with fewer people, but it is creating the need for more highly skilled jobs and workers.

Your upswing in members comes as you are getting ready to hold the 10th annual VMA Manufacturers Showcase. When and where will it be this year and what will it feature?

This year it will be at the Ocean Center on Sept. 30, from 2 to 7 p.m. We'll have close to 100 exhibitors, a robotics competition among local high school teams, 3-D and CNC art contests, and a job information forum where people can get information on everybody (in manufacturing) who's hiring. The manufacturers showcase is free and open to the public and is our kickoff to Florida Manufacturers Month. Everything is geared towards building awareness that we have manufacturers here that offer substantial career opportunities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: visit VMAonline.com or call 386-673-0505.

Originally published by Clayton Park at The Daytona Beach News-Journal