by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

As I write this article during such a turbulent time, I’m inspired by our manufacturers across the region. They are truly stepping up in a variety of ways to help the fight against COVID-19. On social media, there are wide-spread messages from companies supporting health and hope by announcing changes in their procedures for the safety of their employees and customers – if they are still open. Many of you responded to NWIRC’s ‘call to action’ in gathering information to address the critical supplies needed. In the spirit of times during World War II when companies converted factories to produce other products to support the war effort, our regional manufacturers are doing the same by raising their hand to serve with their capabilities and capacity.

There is a flood of information coming at all of us daily via news, email, and social media. We know it’s a critical time to be informed. Being sensitive to the issue of information overload, we felt we can serve by creating a special page on our website to include links to important information and resources. We can also serve as a matchmaker for companies in need of specific materials, products, or services. As part of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) national network, we have access to other Centers who work closely with their manufacturers in every state. With MEP’s forum, we can query the network with specific requests and also monitor this forum for others’ requests that our regional manufacturers may be able to assist with. We are monitoring this information daily with one goal in mind, connecting our companies with new opportunities.

Our mission to help small and mid-sized manufacturers improve their ability to compete, grow, and create opportunities for current and new employees remains steadfast during this crisis. But, our mode of operation has pivoted and we’ve repositioned our internal resources. Like many organizations… we have transitioned to working remotely, communicating virtually, and expanding our online capabilities to help manufacturers in the best way possible. People, leadership, and company culture for most organizations are being tested during this time in our history. NWIRC is no different, and we are still adjusting to our new business environment. To foster face-to-face communications, we have scheduled virtual staff meetings using video-conferencing three times per week. To replicate chatting and information sharing around the ‘water cooler’ or the lunchroom, our CFO Kim Stebick sends emails with fun, light-hearted, and engaging communications. For instance, the first was to share a few photos of each of our new workspaces. NWIRC’s culture has been one of routinely engaging our entire staff in addressing manufacturing issues, charting new offerings, and driving greater value for our clients, so what better time than now to take it to a higher level. While we continue to help our regional manufacturers, virtually, we’ll use this unique time to redo our own strategic plan, enhance marketing and operational plans, and position our organization for greater success.

While we at NWIRC are reflecting on our own organization, we know that manufacturers across the region are doing the same. We hear in the news everyday how manufacturers are stepping up to help with the COVID-19 ‘war effort’. But there are many others taking the time to look within, rethink their operations, and make critical decisions amidst a still uncertain time. I recently heard a term coined ‘industrial meditation’. That companies, once out of crisis mode, will be pausing to review historic data from their machines to help determine areas for future improvements. Like most businesses, manufacturers are now needing to be more creative at how they are running their business, asking themselves questions like: can some employees work at home?, can we re-tool to make a new part for the critical supply chain, or can we source something regionally that we were previously getting from overseas or from across the county. This sort of reflection is what will spark innovation to keep our country moving forward and allow manufacturers to move past this blip in time and bounce back even stronger than before. Contact us if we can help in any way!