During a recent quarterly meeting of the Manufacturing Alliance of Bucks and Montgomery Counties, business leaders gathered to discuss key issues impacting the local manufacturing climate.
A series of panel discussions covered a variety of topics including:
- Reshoring Jobs or bringing employment back to the local economy
- Cyber Security and its impact on manufacturing
- Regional competitiveness
The Rodon Group and K’NEX Brands have been involved with this group since its inception. It is important that as a manufacturing community, we all support each other. Let’s face it, manufacturing is a large part of the local economy. Bucks and Montgomery Counties are home to over 2,000 manufacturers that employ over 70,000 people. These jobs pay an average of $58,000 per year, approximately $12,000 more than the average Pennsylvania per capita income. In fact, every dollar spent in manufacturing adds $1.37 to the U.S. economy, and every 100 jobs in a manufacturing facility creates an additional 250 jobs in other sectors.
It is no wonder; the manufacturing sector has become a focal point for investment by federal, state and local governments. Most of the investment is targeted to developing new technologies and a skilled workforce to capitalize on these new technologies. Workforce development is a primary focus area for the Alliance as well. As skilled employees age and retire, there is a critical need to retrain and replace workers. To help in this effort, Bucks and Montgomery counties, as well as the state provide grants and subsidies to assist with the cost of this training.
The Alliance helps area manufacturers identify and utilize these available resources. Along with workforce development, the counties help businesses obtain low-interest loans and develop export contacts. The Alliance is an extraordinary group of businesses, looking to improve our local economy and the lives of the people they employ. If you would like to learn more about the Alliance, you can join their LinkedIn Group.
Here are some key takeaways from the meeting.
According to Michael Araten, President and CEO of K’NEX Brands, “Made in the USA is the most powerful brand in the world. According to Amazon, the second most searched criteria are for where a product is made. People want to buy locally.” Today, K’NEX Brands has successfully reshored three brands including Tinkertoys, K’NEX and Lincoln Logs. For years, many of these products were made in China. By reshoring production, K’NEX brands has also reshored the jobs and improved the overall economy.
Rick Smethers, CEO and CTO of Interprod, a contract manufacturer said, “In the medical device markets we serve, there is a lot going overseas. And companies were experiencing quality and compliance issues. We may cost more, but we have regulations that we comply with. Overseas, not so much.” Smethers went onto to talk about a personal experience with an offshore supplier. “We had to use an offshore suppler in one instance, however, we needed to hire two people to manage that vendor.”
President and CEO of IMET Corporation, Tom Krol has positioned his company to compete effectively with low-wage companies like China. “If we stick together, we can build a better economy here”, said Krol. “I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can get companies to buy locally.” By investing in automation, Krol has led his company to unparalleled growth in the competitive circuit board industry.
On Cyber Security
Unfortunately, the tone of this panel discussion was a bit more pessimistic. Nearly everyone has had some experience with computer hacking. Ken Krauss, President and CEO of U.S. Axle spoke about the experience his company had with hacking. “We were hit twice in six months.” said Krauss. And someone set up a bogus website to impersonate our company. Since that time, Krauss had invested heavily in protecting the company’s information and systems. With a well-partitioned infrastructure, Krauss hope to avoid any big mishaps in the future. Anthony Kratowicz, Chief Information Officer at K’NEX Brands provided insight into how to protect a company’s data. Kratowicz recommended that firms always have an onsite back-up. He also said it is important to educate your employees on what to look for and what to avoid. Suzanne Smethers, President and Founder of Interprod know the backlash this lack of understanding can create. One employee mistakenly opened an email attachment and watched as her computer was overtaken by malicious software. After unplugging just about everyone from the system, they were able to isolate the attack. To sum it up Kratowicz said “We are the weakest link.” Employees should be trained on how to avoid exposing companies to these costly attacks.
Does your manufacturing business face some of these same issues? Post your input below.