By Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Last month I wrote about the Uniquely Abled Academies and NWIRC’s involvement in this highly collaborative community initiative to train and place young adults on the autism spectrum in manufacturing careers as CNC operators. If you’ve read the news recently, you probably saw coverage of NWIRC’s partnerships to expand existing, and launch new, student-run manufacturing enterprises. You may have heard about our assistance helping companies to improve their culture to better attract, develop, and retain their workforce and become an employer of choice. Undeniably, these initiatives are meaningful and rewarding work that drives a high level of job satisfaction for us at NWIRC and is important for the manufacturing workforce. But, there is so much more to our work. There is a lot of accountability and quantifiable business impact reported by clients that drive our performance and measure our success. That is the focus of my article this month.

NWIRC is affiliated with the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a program of the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The MEP National Network is a unique public-private partnership comprising 51 MEP Centers (one in each state and Puerto Rico). Through more than 1,400 trusted advisors and experts nationwide at 450 service centers, the MEP program supports the competitiveness of U.S.-based manufacturing by making manufacturing technologies, processes, and services more accessible to small and medium-sized manufacturers. The Pennsylvania MEP is comprised of NWIRC and 6 other Industrial Resources Centers.

Each quarter, NWIRC and the other centers in the nation, submit completed client projects to NIST MEP. An independent market research firm, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce, conducts online surveys with clients to capture key project impact data and other information resulting from the completed projects. Each center receives a scorecard measuring actual performance to benchmark for a four quarter rolling period. Our dedicated, experienced staff takes great pride in helping our clients achieve significant impacts and in fueling economic growth and prosperity for our region. For the period of January – December of 2021, NWIRC clients reported to the independent research firm the following impact from their projects with our center:

  • 1249 jobs created or retained
  • $129.6M new and retained sales
  • $6.3M cost savings
  • $19M new client investments (plant, equipment, process, people)

When manufacturing clients complete the NIST MEP Survey, they are also asked to identify the top challenges their companies will face over the next three years. Their input helps us to adjust and respond. For NWIRC’s 2021 surveys, there was an interesting, but not surprising, shift. The challenges noted were 1) employee recruitment (79%), 2) cost reduction (58%), 3) growth opportunities (57%), and 4) product development (28%). The shift was with employee recruitment moving up to be the #1 challenge, for the first time since I can recall. This was seen on a national level as well, however our northwestern PA region had 78% citing this as a top challenge versus 63% across the MEP National Network. This shift doesn’t come as too much of a surprise because, with our work as an MEP Center, our team is onsite talking with manufacturers every day. We hear their challenges real-time and, as a result, are constantly tailoring programs and services to meet their needs. With employee recruitment showing as the top challenge, MEP Centers across the country have been strengthening their workforce programs as a priority for 2022. America Works, an initiative of the MEP National Network, reports programs that can accelerate impact on workforce challenges fall under a few themes, those that: 1) leverage emerging technologies, 2) reach out to new populations, and 3) launch new partnerships.

NWIRC’s initiatives certainly follow suit with our many existing and new partnerships, connecting manufacturers with technology (ie. the upcoming Manufacturing Advanced Expo with NTMA and NEFF), and focusing on new populations (student-run manufacturing enterprises and Uniquely Abled Academy). Not to mention, our focus on helping manufacturers retain the employees they have by taking a deep dive into their company culture and training/development plans to offer recommendations for becoming an employer of choice.

The bottom line is that we are here to help manufacturers. Not just with your #1 top challenge or employee recruitment concerns, but whatever comes your way. Whether it’s increasing productivity, decreasing costs, enhancing innovation, or improving competitiveness – all to drive impact no matter what lies ahead.


Download NWIRC’s full 2021 Regional Impact below: