by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

On February 24, I joined a handful of my peers from around the country as we presented to the national network of Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs) located in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The 2-hour webinar was the culmination of work on the part of the national Manufacturing Resiliency Steering Committee, which I have had the pleasure and privilege to serve on over the past 10 months. The primary focus of the webinar was to share to the national network a resiliency framework including knowledge gained from the pandemic, best practices deployed, and tools that MEP centers can now access via an online repository. I presented on our findings from the more than 200 in depth discovery meetings with manufacturing leaders and provided the comprehensive business assessment tool the NWIRC used as part of our COVID Recovery Program (CRP). Allow me to first set the stage on the bigger picture as presented during the national resiliency rollout before I provide you some of the highlights from my presentation.

The global pandemic resulted in shock waves to the U.S. manufacturing sector that shine a spotlight on the importance of resilience. Having manufacturers who are resilient creates supply chains that are resilient – which is critical to U.S. national and economic security and public health. Today’s dynamic and unpredictable global economy requires manufacturers to provide quality products at reasonable costs that are delivered on time – despite disturbances and uncertainties. Resilient manufacturers operate with situational awareness that allows them to make data-driven business decisions across their environment of inputs, processes, and outputs. Resilient manufacturers can pivot to address new challenges and opportunities, which will strengthen U.S. manufacturing through more resilient supply chains. Resilient manufacturers manage risk and implement integrated strategies and tactics that make them proactive versus reactive.

Through the CRP in our 13-county NWIRC region, we saw three major categories of business state surface, each representing about 1/3 of the market with varying degrees of resiliency within each category and across the entire spectrum. On one end, we saw the hardest hit companies with significant decrease in revenues and lost customers and in need of top-line growth assistance in marketing, sales, and website upgrades. These companies were mostly in survival mode early on and some today are still in recovery. For most in this category, given very limited resources and bandwidth, advancing resiliency is occurring one improvement project or initiative at a time. On the opposite end, were the leaping forward companies that were either in an industry sub-sector that exploded during the pandemic or, because of strong management systems and organizational nimbleness, were able to pivot, seize new market opportunities, and increase revenues. To respond to significant top-line growth, the focus for many companies in this category was, and continues to be, quality, process improvement, and operational excellence. In the middle of the spectrum were status quo companies that for the most part held their own with only slight or no increases or decreases to revenues. Although some of these companies may have lost a key customer or two, many were able to secure new business, probably because of another company unable to survive.

Regardless of whether your company is still recovering, holding its own, or leaping forward, here are a few things to consider. Advancing resiliency applies to all manufacturers. This is not a time for complacency. Status quo and leaping forward companies should not feel bullet-proof. The fact is that most status quo companies and many leaping forward companies don’t have well-thought-out strategic, business continuity, disaster preparedness, or succession plans in place. All companies across the spectrum should look to reduce risk and strengthen its supply chain. Considering current and projected labor challenges, prime opportunities to build and advance resiliency exist by enhancing workforce development and environment, leadership and change management, and strengthen the organizational culture. At NWIRC, we’ve transitioned from the successful COVID Recovery Program to the new Company Resiliency Program for all of these reasons.