by Susan Hileman, NWIRC, COVID-19 Recovery Program Manager

In March and April of 2020 as the pandemic was forcing business shut-downs, representatives from the PA Department of Labor & Industry’s Rapid Response program, Strategic Early Warning Network/Steel Valley Authority (SEWN) and NWIRC were discussing the impact this would have on manufacturing. As a result of that discussion, we decided to collaboratively outline programs we each have available so that 1) others knew what resources we each could offer and 2) we could be better prepared to assist companies with whatever impact COVID was going to have on their business and operations. That initial discussion formed the foundation of the COVID-19 Recovery Program (CRP), a comprehensive partnership of agencies which is coordinated by the NWIRC and depends on each other to advise and assist companies who are negatively impacted by the pandemic. The CRP consists of a Business Assessment, a Cash Flow Analysis and Tactical Action Plan (TAP)—all of which are provided through CARES grant funding at no cost to the business. The end result is a customized list of recommendations to address the issues each company is facing, along with information on existing programs and grant/loan funding that may be of help. The CRP conducted its first assessment in late May. By December 31st, we had engaged with over 107 companies and conducted 40 business assessments. As a result, the TAPs developed with each company’s management team have identified 140 partners, programs, and funding that can help each company moving forward. There have been 18 projects completed to-date with another 47 underway utilizing $51,255 in NWIRC grant offsets, $36,585 in SEWN’s free consulting services and $37,375 in additional Erie County-specific CARES funding. We have found common issues include lost sales, technology upgrades needed, processes which are inefficient, or companies operating without a plan of where they’re going or how they’re going to get there.

Most of the assistance received has been for projects involving sales & marketing, website upgrades, operational excellence/ continuous improvement, strategic planning or ISO certification. As Char Farrell, President of Precise Plastics in Erie noted, “The process of being asked very tactical questions regarding my business through conversation, brought to the forefront a thought-provoking way of realizing strengths and weakness within my organization. It invoked a different way of looking at, not only my business but my industry as a whole, and how I want to approach sustainable growth in today’s manufacturing atmosphere. I found the people and the process very interesting, useful and enjoyable.”

Looking ahead, we still don’t know how long this pandemic is going to affect businesses—likely forever. Forever?! Yes, because it has changed the way we do business: in selling, working remotely, or various ways of protecting our employee’s health and our business health! While we’re new to 2021 and hopeful about the changes it will bring, let me take this opportunity to encourage you to take advantage of the myriad of programs and resources available in our region. Work to implement changes now that will strengthen your company’s position in the future. This is still the best strategy to move forward. If you’d like to participate in or simply learn more about the COVID Recovery Program, contact Program Manager Susan Hileman (shileman@nwirc.org) through September 2021.

Click to find more information about the COVID-19 Recovery Program, and get copies of the Back to Business newsletters.