At 2020 MFG Summit, businesses urged to pay attention to societal issues and ‘lean in’ to an exciting decade

Susan Shelly, Contributing Writer//October 28, 2020

At 2020 MFG Summit, businesses urged to pay attention to societal issues and ‘lean in’ to an exciting decade

Susan Shelly, Contributing Writer//October 28, 2020

Manufacturing is more important now than ever before.

That was the opening message delivered by Rich Hobbs, president and CEO of MRC at the 2020 MFG Summit presented by the Allentown-based Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC), the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA) and manufacturing leadership from across Lehigh and Berks counties.

“Manufacturing will be a key driver in getting us through the pandemic,” Hobbs declared.

The virtual event, hosted by Hobbs and Jim Gerlach, president and CEO of GRCA, was attended by manufacturers, members of the business community, educators and others to discuss challenges and opportunities confronting the manufacturing industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keynote speaker David Beurle, CEO and founder of Future iQ, a Minneapolis-based research and consulting company that specializes in foresight and scenario-based strategic planning, explored what business, manufacturing and society will look like in the coming decades. The current decade, he predicted, will in some ways mirror the 1960s in terms of social unrest coupled with technological innovation.

“Most people listening to me today are familiar with the technological issues, but I’d urge you not to ignore the societal issues,” Beurle said. “It’s going to be a very exciting decade, but you’re going to have to lean into it.”

Businesses, industries and communities will need to stay attuned to trends and outlooks to remain competitive.

“Planning will require creating flexible, well-informed plans that are grounded by understanding trends, but able to adapt quickly,” Beurle said.

Trends he discussed included mass urbanization, which he predicted will affect workforce demographics; increasing populations worldwide resulting in increased demand for energy, food and fresh water; a global shift in wealth; and the implications of being able to work from any location.

The second keynote speaker, former Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Education, Pedro A. Rivera, now president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, urged manufactures and the business community to partner with educators and educational institutions to address the skills gap faced by the manufacturing industry.

“We need to work together to build the holistic needs of students to be successful in any business or industry,” Rivera said.

Gone are the days when students could learn the mechanics of a trade and expect to be successful in a career, Rivera explained. Every student must now be not only occupationally savvy, but have the skills of communication and social interaction in order to succeed.

“In today’s world the technician, the salesperson and the researcher are all rolled up into one,” Rivera said.

He urged members of the manufacturing community to join the occupational advisory councils of local career and technical schools, visit schools in their communities, build relationships and serve as advocates of career and technical programs.

“You have some great programs here in the Lehigh Valley and Berks County,” Rivera said. “Let’s let everyone know about them.”

Four breakout sessions were offered between the keynote speeches. They were:
• “Innovation through Digital Transformation in Manufacturing,” facilitated by Karen Norheim, president and COO of American Crane & Equipment Corporation, Douglassville, with speakers Dr. DP Prakash and Lisa Sibilia, co-CEOs of Youtopian, a Sparta, NJ-based innovations company
• “Managing Your Team and Business through a Pandemic,” facilitated by Alexia Pursley, human resources manager of Arkema, Reading; with speaker Samantha Kramer, executive director of marketing services for Thomas, New York City
• “Economic and Private Market Lookout,” facilitated by Diane Lewis, manager of business development services for the MRC with speaker Mario Vicari, director of Kreischer Miller, an accounting firm that serves the greater Philadelphia area and the Lehigh Valley
• “Beyond the Pivot: How Local MFG Leadership has Evolved,” facilitated by Ellen Albright, GRCA’s director of workforce and talent development with panelists Kenn Mall, managing director of workforce consulting for EDSI Solutions, a workforce development firm with offices in Lehigh and Berks counties; Lindsay Sokol Szejko, owner and CEO of SOLO Laboratories, Kutztown; Shelly Williamson, president of Lehigh Valley Plastics, Bethlehem; and Andy Bachert, general manager at Raser Industries, Reading.