Convert to manufacturing ardent about recruiting others

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Karen Norheim at American Crane & Equipment Corp. in Douglassville: ‘The key to overcoming any challenges … is to have good role models and mentors for women as they get involved in our industry.’

As an enthusiastic supporter of STEM programs – science, technology, engineering and math – and especially those that encourage women to get involved in the manufacturing field, Karen Norheim holds the perfect position.

The last two years, Norheim has been the executive vice president of American Crane & Equipment Corp., responsible for oversight of the daily operations of the company’s three manufacturing facilities in Douglassville, with 180 employees.

She got her start in the marketing and information technology department there after college about 16 years ago and came to the business through her father, Oddvar Norheim, who was one of the founders of American Crane in 1972 and is its sole owner.

She grew to love manufacturing and is passionate about it and her mission to bring others into the fold.

Today, she also is responsible for the company’s continued expansion, growth and long-term strategies, including marketing and IT.


According to Norheim, American Crane is a recognized leader in the design and manufacture of electric overhead traveling cranes, wire rope hoists and custom-engineered lifting equipment.

Its equipment can be found handling radioactive materials in Idaho and assisting spacecraft in Florida, to name only two of the many areas in which American Crane is involved in providing an integrated approach through its in-house resources for engineering, manufacturing, installation and service.

“We are uniquely positioned to provide our customers with a single source to satisfy their material handling needs from small chain hoists to a 1,000-ton overhead crane custom solution,” Norheim said.

“We are proud to be an American-owned manufacturer.”


Norheim encourages young women to consider entering a previously male-dominated field when she makes presentations at local schools and professional organizations.

She serves on the advisory board at Penn State Great Valley, helping to implement and promote a new, multidisciplinary four-year undergraduate degree program for design engineers.

She also participates in mentoring days at Exeter Township High School.

“Karen has been a part of our program’s development since the beginning, serving on our community partnership committee, providing our students with field trip and internship opportunities and promoting women in STEM and manufacturing,” said Zachary Potter, technology education and Project Lead the Way instructor at Exeter High School.


Potter said Norheim also has presented innovative ideas that have helped steer the school’s program in ways that better benefit STEM students.

“She is an outstanding example for the young women in our STEM program and, as a district, we are lucky to have her support and that of American Crane,” he said.

Norheim was a panelist last year at a Berks County manufacturing summit, where discussion centered around the future of manufacturing – what she calls “critical to the economic success of eastern Pennsylvania.”


Norheim believes in starting local when spreading the word about the vitality of jobs in manufacturing, and added that even her family and friends are not immune to her zeal.

“I have been lucky to have had good role models and mentors over the years, including my dad,” said Norheim, who is involved with the Women in Manufacturing Pennsylvania Chapter and serves on the national board.

“It’s important to help pay this forward, because the key to overcoming any challenges you might face is to have good role models and mentors for women as they get involved in our industry.”


Norheim earned a dual degree in marketing and international business and international studies from Penn State. She also holds a master’s degree in information science and a Master of Business Administration from Penn State Great Valley.

Today, she is increasing her leadership role and putting her own spin on the company’s culture.

“My father and I are both doing what we love,” Norheim said. “Recently, I launched Grit Matters, the company’s new mission statement, to represent what sets us apart. My role is to ensure the environment and culture is the best it can be for our employees to thrive.

“I’m proud of our employees, they’re our most important asset, and this was my way of showing them how cool they are, while reflecting who we are. We put perseverance, heart and integrity into everything we do.”


Manufacturing is a variety of people with different skills joining together to create an end product, Norheim said.

The coordination of sales, engineering, fabricating, purchasing, accounting, information technology and more creates an exciting work environment that offers well-paying jobs with fun and rewarding work.

“I love to see our products go from concept to creation,” she said.

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