COVID Recovery - businesses are open photoby Susan Hileman, NWIRC, COVID-19 Recovery Program Manager

It’s been over a year now of living in a COVID-19 cautious world. It is an understatement to say life has changed. From limited contact with other people to the dramatic fall in sales, COVID turned our world upside down. Now that we are rounding the corner of the pandemic, orders are beginning to pick up again. Manufacturing is getting busier, but other issues threaten to cripple recovery: prices of materials are increasing (sometimes significantly), raw materials can be hard to acquire, and finding people to work is more challenging than ever.

As part of the COVID Recovery Program (CRP), the Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC) conducted over 50 business assessments with companies throughout the region. Most were not shut down except for a few days or weeks at most. Many had layoffs and have recovered, though some are unable to take on more work until they can find more employees. Some reacted to the crisis by successfully doubling-down sales efforts with past customers. Others benefitted on cost savings by rethinking the way they ran production and held inventory, finding areas to streamline processes or automate, and investigating ways to bring supply chains closer to home. Those who participated in the CRP received matching grant funds which were often invested into sales & marketing efforts, process improvements, strategic planning, or attaining needed certifications.

Companies bouncing forward from the COVID-19 pandemic

  • A 30-person shop in Erie County that specializes in precision CNC machining, milling, turning and prototypes was in the process of implementing a succession plan, but also wanted to maintain focus on overall business growth. A recommendation was made to update their strategic plan to include identifying action steps to meet the company’s goal of continued sales growth year over year and provide insights into what future markets they should pursue.
  • A 5-person powdered metal company in Elk County with loyal, trained employees and a great company culture, also had stagnant sales volume and lacked the ability to reach new customers. Recognizing the potential of the internet to grow sales, the plan included a rebuild of their website to incorporate sales strategy and positioning. Ultimately, they added new customers, new parts, and new employees. During the closing meeting, the owner said, “I cannot express my gratitude for the work the NWIRC has done for us… six months ago our future was looking pretty dark, but with everything we’ve done through the CRP we can finally see a light at the end”!
  • A 50-person manufacturer of tools, dies, jigs, fixtures and industrial molds in Venango County had already begun the process of working with the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to tap into a potential increase in funding for DoD projects, however while they had the skills, they lacked the required certification to be considered a viable candidate. A Gap Analysis was conducted, and recommendation made to acquire assistance to position the company for ISO Certification.

COVID Recovery Program is still an option

There’s no doubt that the COVID Recovery Program has made a positive impact. However, we recognize there’s still a lot to be done. Not all industries, nor industry sectors, have been affected or will recover at the same pace. Companies need to continue to diversify markets and customers. And, quite frankly, we’re not through the pandemic yet. While some experts indicate we’ve turned a corner, there is the distinct possibility of a backslide of COVID impacting companies in the 3rd quarter of 2021. Time will tell.  In the meantime, stay safe, continue smart business practices, maintain good relationships with your bank, and reach out if you’re interested in participating in the CRP.