Richard Hobbs is the third president and CEO for the Manufacturers Resource Center since its inception, some 30+ years ago. Edie Ritter started in the role, followed by Jack Pfunder. The MRC covers Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Schuylkill. It is one of the seven ‘IRC’s’ (Industrial Resource Centers) that cover Pennsylvania, each with a different, non-conflicting geography. Hobbs has more than 35 years in various manufacturing roles. This is his first time running a nonprofit organization.
LVB: What is the main goal of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley?
Hobbs: The main goal is to help manufacturers in our five-county area to improve and grow their businesses. In short, we seek to help them improve and accelerate their efficiencies, provide key feedback to them while helping to solve their problems, while at the same time providing training and opportunities for them to network and engage with other manufacturers in the area.
LVB: What is the state of manufacturing nationally and in the Lehigh Valley and right now?
Hobbs: Good question! I think that ultimately it really depends upon the markets that are being served and the micro-geography involved. In some areas, it’s a boom, in others it’s a bust. Many are concerned about the future uncertainty in the markets that are being driven through various tariff discussions. Locally, we see many companies that are growing dramatically, whereas others are starting to cut back. We do hear very consistently about workforce skills gaps and trouble finding staff almost universally.
LVB: There has been a lot of talk about the skills gap in manufacturing, but what are some other challenges in the industry?
Hobbs: There are multiple challenges in this area that are coming together to create a huge problem in manufacturing. First, many ‘boomers’ are leaving the workplace daily – as many as 12,000 per day, I’ve heard. Next, many younger workers aren’t looking to start off in a manufacturing career, for many different reasons, so most manufacturing companies are struggling just to hold on to their workforces. As workers leave with lots of skills, new workers come in and immediately need training, but with the brain drain that is happening, there are fewer and fewer skilled workers remaining to do the training, which is creating a need for trainers/training in general. Tied into all of this is efficiency, too. With many new workers and the training demands it places on existing workforces, we see declines in productivity/safety/quality likely to occur, unless manufacturers focus on carefully eliminating potential gaps in these areas.
LVB: Where do you see Lehigh Valley Manufacturing in the next 10 years?
Hobbs: I believe that many of the existing Lehigh Valley manufacturing companies will either transform from traditional to advanced manufacturing, or if they don’t, they will risk not being as competitive as they will need to be to stay on top. The MRC can definitely help in this area. Companies that don’t continually transform their businesses, will face increasing pressures, in terms of staying competitive as well as being able to hire their next round of employees. Being less competitive introduces all kinds of undesirable pressures onto a business over time, such that many smaller independent owners may sell off or need to close/downsize. Ten years is a long time horizon right now given everything that appears so uncertain, so it’s tough to predict.
-By Stacy Wescoe