by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Gary Clark (L), Reed Manufacturing and Ben Davis (R), Gene Davis Sales & Services attend GR8T Manufacturing Partnership meeting.

GR8T Manufacturing is back baby! After a pause of two years due to the pandemic, this next generation sector partnership, with a footprint of 8 counties in northwestern PA, reignited on June 22 at the Bayfront Sheraton. Unlike traditional industry partnerships of the past, ‘next generation’ sector partnerships center on strong industry leadership with a keen focus on addressing what matters most to them to ensure the industry, in this case manufacturing, has what it needs to grow and thrive. In the Next Generation Sector Partnership model, business leaders are at the center providing input and direction. Around them are representatives from education, economic development, and of course workforce development. The regional partners listen to what the industry leaders are saying and look to collaborate, harness resources, and support the implementation of solutions to seize the opportunities identified and outcomes desired of the industry leaders. There are many Next Generation Sector Partnerships across the country. The model calls for each partnership to have a Convener. NWIRC is the Convener of GR8T Manufacturing.

Here is an example of a powerful outcome. One of GR8T’s three priorities established when the partnership launched in late 2018 was B2B Connections with an initiative to build a website that can connect manufacturers in the region for increase sourcing of parts and help companies from outside our area to connect with regional manufacturers leading to new business opportunities and economic growth. During the recent June meeting, Nate Wheeler, President of WeCreate (developer of the B2B platform, provided a demonstration of the website and shared data on the increasing traffic to the site. The SEO enhancements and site improvements showcased by Nate were impressive but more importantly are working. Nate shared real examples of companies connecting and leads for new business opportunities. One involved Boeing whose complex needs required not one, but multiple companies from our region to combine resources and capabilities. The B2B platform is an example of the powerful outcomes of a Next Generation Sector Partnership and is why I am so excited to see GR8T back in action. By the way, the other two priorities of GR8T are: Promote Manufacturing Careers and Build Pathways, and Brand and Promote the Region.

I am also excited about the young manufacturing professionals’ group that has been in existence in Erie for some time and now is looking to expand their footprint. This group truly represents the “next generation” of manufacturing leader. Ben Davis (Gene Davis Sales & Service) and Brian Rubin (Erie Cotton Products), two of the leaders of this young manufacturing professionals’ group, introduced their plans to the GR8T manufacturers in attendance at the June meeting. The reaction was very positive and encouraging as everyone applauded the plans and also recognized the synergies with GR8T. The combined effort of these two groups, fueled by a shared passion and commitment to the region by all involved, positions manufacturing in Northwestern PA for sustained growth and prosperity.

The same can be said in the eastern part of the NWIRC 13-county region where the Next Generation Sector Partnership there is making a difference too. I recently caught up with Terry Hinton, Workforce Solutions, the Convener for the North Central PA Next Generation Manufacturing and Building/Construction Industry Partnership. The industry-led priorities for this 6-county partnership include identifying untapped labor pools and encouraging youth to enter manufacturing and building/construction occupations. Terry shared that through the efforts of industry leaders and regional support partners, 45 high school and technical education students secured employment in manufacturing, construction, and healthcare with funding secured that enabled the 23 employers participating in the Co-Op to receive a reimbursement for wages. Another win-win for the partnership was the securing of ARC funding for PROSPER: From Recovery to Career – a program that provides employers access to a new pool of labor with training about policy and practices for managing employees in recovery from Drug or Alcohol Use Disorder.

The manufacturing sector is a critical driver to our economy, and we are fortunate to have two Next Generation Manufacturing Sector Partnerships in the NWIRC’s region. If you are a manufacturer and want to make a difference, I encourage you to get involved in the partnership in your area. It doesn’t matter which generation you are in, just that you care to be in and want to help to make things better for the next generation of manufacturers.