By Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

The shining city, or region in this case, is northwest Pennsylvania and the ‘Hill’ is none other than the U.S Capitol. On March 8th, about 250 leaders from around the country representing manufacturing companies and Centers like NWIRC (part of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network) took part in meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and their staff. The purpose to discuss the importance of U.S. manufacturing and the critical role that MEP Centers play in helping small and mid-sized manufacturing companies improve their ability to compete and grow.

The 17-strong NWIRC delegation was the largest of any Center. This is noteworthy considering many MEPs, such as California, represent the entire state. But our delegation shined beyond size. Those representing manufacturing included Sara Hanks (Wabtec), Matt Koket (GeorgeKo Industries), Heath Jenkins (Gasbarre Powder Compaction Solutions), Rick Young (Sintergy Inc.), Kevryn Dixon (American Refining Group), Eric Parish (Zippo), and Carolyn Newhouse (Bradford Alliance). This diverse group contributed significantly providing their perspectives and examples of NWIRC’s assistance and impact, and voicing support for our initiatives making a difference for the future of manufacturing.

One of those initiatives is the Student-Run Manufacturing Enterprise (SRME) model that NWIRC has helped to launch in six different school districts and counties of northwest PA. Who better to include in our delegation in D.C. than the team from Parkway Industrial (PI), the SRME at Bradford Area High School. Their team included seniors, Wyatt Jordan and Skye Irwin; juniors, Ashley Engle and Gage Wilmoth; SRME program advisor/instructor, Sean Reams; high school principal, David Ray, and the school district’s Director of Curriculum, Erin Waugaman. The NWIRC delegation, along with other manufacturers and staff from our PA sister-Centers, had morning meetings in the offices of Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman and later with House of Representative offices of Congressmen Mike Kelly and Glenn Thompson.

The spotlight was on the students in each meeting and they quickly captured the attention and admiration of all – each describing their roles and responsibilities with their SRME. Wyatt, President of PI, spoke on the engineering and design functions of the enterprise. Using a plastic model of a part marked-up by their customer, Cross Racing, he described problems with the car part, new aspects desired, and what the engineering-minded students did to redesign. Ashley and Gage talked about their roles in production- setting up and running the job on their CNC equipment and using their Coordinated Measuring Machine (CMM) to check quality to the customer’s requirements. As they passed around the finished aluminum part they machined, you could hear pride and excitement in their voices as they shared more information about the customer’s order and satisfaction with their workmanship. Skye, Treasurer for PI with an interest in business and marketing, talked about her role with quoting, invoicing, and order fulfillment. She also boasted about the practical experience working with her fellow students developing PI’s logo, website, and capabilities statement.

The pinnacle of each meeting was when the students showcased parts produced for two prominent Bradford-based manufacturers – with representatives sharing perspectives as a customer, and as a regional employer. Eric Parish, Director of Engineering at Zippo and Kevryn Dixon, Reliability Manager at ARG, talked about the impressive work the students are doing and excitement to continue to support PI.

I could not be more proud and grateful for the incredible participation from our region. We had success, created memories, and made a statement. Manufacturing in northwest PA is strong and getting stronger. It’s bright and getting brighter. We were, for a day, the shining region on the ‘Hill’. But as Gage, our junior production student from Parkway Industrial, said after being complimented for his participation at the opening reception the evening before our meetings on the ‘Hill’, “Thanks, but there is work to be done tomorrow.”