Through strategic planning, investments and partnerships, one regional organization wants to accelerate economic growth for manufacturers.
Since its founding in 1988, the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) has helped thousands of companies in the Lehigh Valley expand, grow capital, develop lean processes, and find solutions to a variety of problems that are unique to small and mid-size manufacturers.
“Small manufacturers are at a disadvantage,” said Jack Pfunder, president and CEO of MRC, a nonprofit organization. “That’s why we were established. Our biggest thing that we are doing is finding niches for companies.”
The organization has office space at 125 Goodman Drive in Lower Saucon Township, on land it rents from Lehigh University. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lehigh University, MRC always has two Lehigh University personnel on its board of directors, a move that is helpful in guiding the organization.
Pfunder said that since he took the reins in 2005 the MRC has helped as many as 175 companies a year. However, that average has declined slightly since funding from state and federal agencies has dwindled.
MRC’s overall budget is $2.5 million. Its workforce has shrunk from a high of 23 to the current 12.5 staff members. Over the past three years, state funding has been reduced by about 67 percent.
As a result, the organization helps fewer companies per year and currently has about 110 companies that it does projects with.
Yet MRC still manages to reach out to Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Carbon and Schuylkill counties.
“I’m looking for companies that have good management,” said Pfunder. “They might be small and they might be large – but they’re ones that are going to continue to grow.
“In most cases, we will find existing technology and find solutions to a company’s problems. We also identify companies that would want to use that technology. We will pinpoint down into industries and companies who would want this technology and match them.”
Talent is the number one problem facing manufacturing today, said Pfunder. Right behind the skills gap is the need to change the image of manufacturing so parents, students, staff, and teachers understand how manufacturing is a career option with high pay, strong demand, and cleaner, safer work environments.
Higher level math and computer skills are involved with these positions, which is a huge change from what it used to be, Pfunder added.
With the average CEO now being age 55 or older, a significant transition in leadership needs to take place as these leaders ready for retirement. Therefore, succession planning is another tool MRC offers companies.
MRC offers leadership training through its Manufacturers Institute Program. More than 120 manufacturing managers and CEOs have graduated from the program so far.
But educating youth on the career options manufacturing offers is essential for growth to continue. If a strong supply chain of employees starts at the high school level, companies will want to come here to the Lehigh Valley, which he said is well-positioned for long-term economic growth in the field of manufacturing.
One way MRC hopes to highlight manufacturing in the Valley is through the new Manufacturing Council, an offspring of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. This council is targeting all types of manufacturing issues.
MRC’s partners include the Da Vinci Science Center, the Workforce Investment Board Inc., and Lehigh County Technical Institute.
As the organization enters its 25th year, its goals include getting manufacturing companies to adopt school districts, start more apprenticeships, and create more partnerships.
“We know the manufacturing base,” said Pfunder. “The education of parents and kids is critical.”