Head of national manufacturers group launches NorCal tour at Jelly Belly

February 28 2019

Daily Republic By Glen Faison Feb 28, 2019

FAIRFIELD — Fifteen billion.

That’s how many Jelly Belly beans are produced each year at Jelly Belly Candy Company’s three manufacturing facilities, with roughly 85 percent of the sweet treats produced at the Fairfield plant.

The number – 15 billion beans – was the only thing to surprise Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturing, during a tour of the Fairfield plant Tuesday to launch the Northern California segment of a two-week tour that includes eight states and 25 cities and towns.

Timmons freely shared that he keeps a sizable stash of his favorite Jelly Belly flavors in a drawer of his office desk, so he’s no stranger to the end product.

“I didn’t realize how many people I was competing with to put them in my mouth,” he said.

Timmons was joined in the Fairfield stop by Caroline Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute, and Lance Hastings, president and CEO of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association.

While the sheer volume of product may have surprised Timmons, operations at the state-of-the-art Fairfield factory of the company he described as the leader in its field did not.

“Obviously we’re really familiar with the brand,” he said.

The food and beverage sector represents about one-eighth of manufacturing in the country, Timmons said, which made the Fairfield factory a reasonable place to launch the Northern California segment of the tour. That and the fact that he had never toured the plant before, either in his professional capacity or as a fan.

Jelly Belly CEO Lisa Rowland Brasher made sure Timmons got three packs of Jelly Bellys – right off the line and freshly packaged – to take home, one for each of his three children.

Surprise aside, Timmons said he was happy to find in Jelly Belly a real-world example that dispels what he calls the urban myth that automation kills jobs. Jelly Belly, he said, has turned to automation to improve efficiency and boost production while at the same time not only preserving people’s jobs, but creating and adding new jobs.

“That urban myth is blown wide open,” he said.

Jobs Timmons describes as repetitive have been automated through technology, which has allowed people who had those repetitive-motion jobs to move into different roles. Meanwhile the company continues to grow. Evidence of that growth is the new 100,000-square-foot warehouse that was recently completed at the Fairfield site.

The day’s outing included a tour of the factory floor and a Jelly Belly tasting led by Brasher that included Timmons, Lee, Hastings and Jelly Belly’s vice president of global operations, Jeff Brown, who led the factory tour. The tasting was recorded for later posting on Facebook.

Timmons said one of the purposes of the two-week tour is to help tell the story of modern-day manufacturing in the U.S. and to encourage people to considering careers in the manufacturing sector. The afternoon’s stop at an East Bay high school served to further that message with a target audience: high school and community college students who have not yet decided on a career path.

Programs within The Manufacturing Institute also target people who are about to leave the military, Timmons said, and have been quite successful at placing former members in the armed services in management roles across the industry.

There’s also a push to get more women into manufacturing jobs.

Timmons said women comprise 20 percent of the workforce in the manufacturing sector, compared to 54 percent on the overall workforce.

“So we have a gender gap in manufacturing,” he said.

The tour has thus far afforded Timmons an opportunity to research the situation along the nation’s southern border. He said one of the stops was to the border area in Texas, where he said he had a chance to meet and talk to people who are hip-deep in the issue of immigration at the border.

Timmons said the experience convinced him that the U.S. needs comprehensive immigration reform.

“Being able to see that firsthand was life-changing,” he said.