by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Earlier this year, the Manufacturing Innovation Blog (powered by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership- MEP), published a post about the geography of manufacturing. The article references rural America’s dependence on manufacturing as noted in a report published by the USDA Economic Research Service, “Rural America At A Glance: 2016 Edition” and the important role of the MEP National Network™. Within Pennsylvania’s rural communities, the industrial sector is the largest provider of worker wages and benefits and many companies are small enterprises playing a critical role in their community. Rural manufacturers often don’t have abundant resources available, like their urban counterparts, to help identify and seize growth opportunities (new customers, new markets). This is exactly the mission of the MEP National Network™ – to enhance  companies’ competitiveness and reinforce their sustainability. As one of seven Centers of the PA MEP, NWIRC serves 13 of the PA counties, the vast majority of which are located in counties classified as rural. To support the MEP mission, we are always looking to address the issues and challenges these manufacturers face by developing new programs and resources to help these companies flourish.

We know that many manufacturers have a challenge in attracting and retaining skilled employees, and this becomes a greater challenge in the rural areas with a smaller population base. Several of our strategic efforts underway center around helping companies develop and sustain a continuous improvement and growth-minded organizational culture of highly engaged employees. A culture that enables the company to stay ahead and outperform its competition, improve its customer and employee satisfaction, and enable greater capacity to seize new business opportunities and to realize significant profitable growth. Our Lean Together™ working groups focus on concepts from the book, 2 Second Lean, which is all about employee involvement and helping your team understand daily productivity and how they fit into the bigger picture. On April 4th at the Mercer County Lean Together graduation, we are hosting employee involvement expert, Steve Ansuini, to share insights and experiences of how companies reap higher gains by focusing more on people versus the bottom line. In addition, we are planning our annual Growth Conference on June 14th in St Marys with this year’s theme ‘Cultivating Rural Manufacturing’ with presenters who focus on leveraging the strengths of rural manufacturers. These are just a few of the initiatives that enable NWIRC to support manufacturers in rural communities, and beyond.

1 EMSI, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce and/or Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information & Analysis