Bethlehem team wins statewide ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing’ contest

A team of Bethlehem Middle School Students has taken home first place in this year’s “Best of PA Statewide Awards Event for What’s So Cool About Manufacturing. 

Northeast Middle School, which is in the Bethlehem Area School District partnered with Stanley Black & Decker to create a video explaining the work that the manufacturer performs and to help get young people interested in careers in manufacturing. 

The fifth annual statewide event was held over the weekend in Harrisburg with 22 student teams competing from throughout the state. 

 A four-judge panel viewed the 22 entries, representing 11 regional contests across Pennsylvania and a total of 150 student videos, to select the statewide award recipients. 

Second Place went to Boyertown Middle School West in Boyertown Area School District in Berks County, which worked on a video featuring R.M. Palmer Company. 

Third Place went to Conrad Weiser Middle School in Berks County, which worked with John F. Martin & Sons, LLC. 

There was also a Viewers Choice Award, which went to Butler Area Team 2 in Butler County. Its video featured JSP International. It was recognized for garnering the largest number of regional vote totals across the state, during three days of online voting where all Pennsylvania teams competed. 

“The continued success of the What’s So Cool program validates its effort to generate excitement toward manufacturing career pathways and promote STEM and CTE education statewide and nationwide,” said Karen Buck, director of workforce initiatives for the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC). “We are so excited and proud to celebrate the Best of PA 2023 student teams and highlight their videos!” 

 The “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” Student Video Contest, which originated in the Lehigh Valley and is the brainchild of MRC, has garnered over 4 million combined votes by the public during regional online voting dates since its inception in 2013 

More than 60% of the school districts in Pennsylvania have participated in the program. 

The 2023 participating regional contests in Pennsylvania included 150 middle school teams from Bedford County, Berks Schuylkill, Central Susquehanna, Chester Delaware, Lehigh Valley, North Central, Northern Tier, Philadelphia Region, Pittsburgh Central, Pittsburgh East, and South Central. 


Statewide ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing’ contest set

It’s getting close to the final tally to find out “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” in the state of Pennsylvania. 

The statewide awards ceremony, which is the culmination of all of the regional “What’s So cool About Manufacturing” events throughout the state will be held at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg May 15. 

The competition pairs teams of middle school students with manufacturers around the state to produce videos explaining what the manufacturer does with a theme of “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” 

The idea behind the event was to get young people interested in a career in manufacturing at a time when many employers in manufacturing are having a difficult time finding skilled employees. 

The first contest was organized and held in the Lehigh Valley, but the idea has since spread throughout the entire state, which led to the creation of the statewide event. 

The event will be held from noon until 1:30 p.m. and will feature students, teachers, manufacturers and elected officials. 

‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing’ winners announced

The Outstanding Overall Program award went to Lower Macungie Middle School, which profiled B. Braun Medical Inc.
The Outstanding Overall Program award went to Lower Macungie Middle School, which profiled B. Braun Medical Inc. –

The Manufacturers Resource Center has announced the winners of this year’s What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” Lehigh Valley Student Video Contest awards. 

A total of 33 middle schools and manufacturers from Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, and Northampton counties partnered to create videos that answer the question “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing.” 

More than1,000 people attended the awards event Tuesday at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. 

Over a three-day voting period, the contest, which featured two-minute videos produced by each student team, received 339,663 votes.  

The video with the most votes received the “Viewers Choice Award.”  

The winner was J.T. Lambert Intermediate School, which profiled Ultra-Poly Corp. 

Student videos were also reviewed by a panel of judges for awards in ten other categories, including Outstanding Videography and Outstanding Creativity. 

The Outstanding Overall Program award went to Lower Macungie Middle School, which profiled B. Braun Medical Inc. 

This was the tenth year for the program, which began in the Lehigh Valley and has since expanded throughout the state. 

“Ten years ago, we started work on What’s So Cool about Manufacturing. We hoped to engage and inspire Lehigh Valley students, but could not have imagined that millions would be interested in middle school videos of manufacturing facilities,” says Karen Buck, director of Workforce Initiatives at MRC. “The community has come to expect the information about careers and technology the student teams so diligently spotlight in their educational and creative media messages. We applaud the efforts of the 33 student teams who raised awareness about cool career opportunities and broke all previous voting records.” 

 Other winners were:  

Outstanding Editing: Springhouse Middle School – BlueTriton Brands 

Outstanding Creativity: Bangor Area Middle School – Victaulic Company 

Outstanding Cool: East Hills Middle School – ProtoCAM 

Outstanding Team Spirit: Orefield Middle School – Precision Roll Grinders 

Outstanding Educational Value: Nitschmann Middle School – ABEC 

Outstanding Videography: Northeast Middle School – Stanley Black & Decker 

Outstanding Outreach Plan: Saucon Valley Middle School – Kitchen Magic 

 Outstanding Career Pathway: Trexler Middle School – Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. 

 Outstanding CTE Story: J.T. Lambert Intermediate School – Ultra-Poly Corporation 



Voting to begin for ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing’ student video contest

Students participate in a statewide ’What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?’ contest. PHOTO/SUMBITTED –

It’s that time of the year again. 

Voting will soon begin for the 10th annual What’s So Cool About Manufacturing student video contest. 

Organized by the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley, student teams from 33 Lehigh Valley area middle schools compete for the most votes to win the coveted “Viewers Choice Award.”  

They have been working with regional manufacturers to learn what they do and then produce a video explaining “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” at their partner company. 

The videos will also be reviewed by a panel of judges for awards in ten other categories, including Outstanding Career Pathway, Outstanding Editing and Outstanding Creativity. 

Since its inception, the What’s So Cool About Manufacturing Student Video Contest format, created by Manufacturers Resource Center here in the Lehigh Valley, has been replicated by sixteen regional contests, and adopted by stakeholders in 11 additional states. 

Online voting will begin Wednesday March 1, 12:01 a.m. and remain open until Friday, March 3, 11:59 p.m. at www.whatssocool.org.  

Voting is open to contest participants and the public, who may vote for more than one video and as often as they wish. The winner will be announced during this year’s awards event on March 14 at 7 p.m. 

“We are thrilled to celebrate the 10th year of What’s So Cool with the Lehigh Valley community at our annual awards event,” says Rich Hobbs, MRC president & CEO. “While we anticipate a record-breaking voting response, what we love seeing most is the hard work and collaboration between the students, teachers and manufacturers, as well as the impact of sharing their message about manufacturing opportunities right here in our region.” 

As recession looms over 2023 local leaders see hope

As the nation rings in the New Year, it has the “R” word on its mind. 

Many economists are predicting a recession in 2023, but opinions vary on how bad it could be and just what would be impacted. 

Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., said from what he’s being told all of the signs are there pointing towards recessionary conditions, but if a recession does come, he doesn’t think it will hit the Lehigh Valley as hard as some other regions. 

He noted that there is a strong diversity of industries in the Lehigh Valley and there remains a strong interest in locating here. 

A recent report by Century 21 Commercial showed that the Lehigh Valley industrial market had the tenth lowest vacancy rate in the nation, and the second in the Northeast region, behind only the New York Metro. 

“Looking ahead I think most people are forecasting a little bit of a slowdown in the industrial market,” Cunningham said. “But we’re not there yet.” 

He said the popularity of the region for warehousing and light industrial companies may be one thing that slows down economic development in 2023. 

“A lack of locations and higher interest rates could impact the economy,” he said. 

The commercial office space may continue to remain slow in 2023.  Many companies have adopted work from home or hybrid office policies that mean most aren’t opening new office space right now. 

Richard Hobbs, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center, said for the most part many of the issues that manufacturers faced in 2022 will carry over into this year. 

He said the looming recession and higher interest rates will be factors that will affect manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley. 

“There’s still the same fundamental issues, but with twists to them,” he said. 

Areas of improvement for 2023 should be in supply chain management, he said issues at ports and with transportation have eased and more materials and goods are getting to their destinations. 

Hiring shouldn’t be as big of a challenge, either. 

“At the beginning of [2022] there was a craze in trying to hire,” he said. That drove up wages and led employers to offer a variety of extra bonuses and benefits to attract workers from the limited talent pool. 

“There’s still a hiring press, but not as crazy as it was before,” he said. 

He expects wages to normalize and for employers to be more focused on retention than hiring. 

“How do we retain these people we spent all that money to bring on,” he said. 

Hobbs said he thinks the biggest impact on manufacturing and the regional economy in 2023 will be the reduction in the Corporate Net Income Tax, which begins this year. 

Once among the highest in the nation, the tax will be reduced starting this year from 9.9% to 8.99% as of Jan. 1 of this year and ultimately down to 4.9% by 2031. 

“I think that’s going to be a big attractor to bring manufacturers into the state,” Hobbs said. “It’s the right way to go and it’s the right thing to do. 

During a recent press conference on the tax reduction, Christopher Kuhn, CFO of Olympus of the Americas in Center Valley, said the tax reduction will benefit local operations at his company.  

“We will be able to more aggressively grow our business with both organic and inorganic investments in Pennsylvania,” Kuhn said. 

On the flip side of the tax reduction, interest rate increases are expected to continue. 

The Federal Reserve has indicated that it’s unlikely 2023 will see any interest rate cuts and kept the possibility open that more rate hikes could be coming this year. 

John Hayes, CEO of New Tripoli Bank and member of the PA Bankers Association, said that the higher rates have already put some commercial projects on hold and he expects slowed activity through 2023. 

But he said in some ways that’s a good thing. He said development in the region couldn’t “continue to perform at that level over a long period of time,” and that the slowdown is more of a normalization of development. 

Still, with major movement in food, beverage and pet food manufacturing and many European companies looking to move into the Lehigh Valley, Cunningham said he said he expects, overall, the Lehigh Valley in 2023 will be “full speed ahead toward economic growth.” 


MRC begins 10th year of ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?’

The What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? awards are held at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. PHOTO/FILE –

The Lehigh Valley is entering its 10th year of a program to encourage young people to consider careers in manufacturing. 

What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? started in the Lehigh Valley and has expanded across the state with more than 6,000 students and 525 manufacturers participating. In its 10th year, the program now has 60% of the state’s school districts participating. 

Run by the Manufacturers Resource Center, What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? is a competition that pairs middle school students with nearby manufacturers where they learn about what the manufacturer does and then create a video about what they learned, which are then judged by the community and a panel of judges cumulating with an awards ceremony in March. 

 Over the past decade, MRC has grown The WSCM Video Library with almost 1,000 manufacturing videos to become a much sought-after resource for education and economic development.  

Student teams will partner with manufacturers in eleven regions across Pennsylvania this year, where videos will compete first in regional contests and then in the annual Statewide Awards in Harrisburg.  

“Bringing the excitement of ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?’ for the last 10 years in the Lehigh Valley is certainly a true accomplishment,” states Rich Hobbs, MRC president & CEO.  “It takes communities joining together to embrace an established and well-loved contest that not only inspires and educates, but that potentially grows a future workforce which in turn, will support economic growth and expansion in the area,” he concludes. 

For the Lehigh Valley competition this year, 32 student teams from Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, and Northampton County middle schools are partnering with 32 area manufacturers to produce their video submissions.  All videos will be posted on the “What’s So Cool” website WhatsSoCool.org and will be open to the public for voting on March 1-3, 2023 for the Viewers Choice Award. The Lehigh Valley Awards Event is scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, 2023, at ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.

A Conversation With: Richard Hobbs, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley

Richard Hobbs –

LVB: Are supply chain issues continuing to plague manufacturers in the region, or is the problem getting better? 

Hobbs: The quick answer to this question is both. The supply chain issues are improving, but they are still a plague to many manufacturers. To a large degree, it depends on your market segment/niche and whether you source products from far away, as in offshore, or you need some of the “tough to get” products out there. We see many manufacturers waiting months for what used to be weeks in deliveries. Imports are stuck in transit often, be it at the ports or on the ocean or on truck transit.  

Many have turned to airfreight as an alternative, but capacity has been stretched thin there as well. All that said, many manufacturers have been able to bulk up on inventories, thus minimizing the impact of supply chain issues. While not the greatest financial move, it has helped to keep lead times in check and win business in some cases. 

 LVB: Many industries, including manufacturing, are having trouble finding the right talent. What is being done to help meet the labor demand? 

Hobbs: This was a problem before the pandemic in manufacturing, but the pandemic has certainly made it worse. Ultimately there is a demographic issue at the root of this problem. There just aren’t enough workers to fill the open jobs, this is especially true in the Lehigh Valley. To combat this, employers are vying to become the “employer of choice” to attract and retain talent.  

Many employers are getting creative and looking outside the box to alternate sources of labor such as immigrant workers, veterans, second chance (previously incarcerated) individuals etc. There has also been a lot more activity with regard to fostering apprenticeships and focusing on graduating high school and CTE (Career and Technical Education) students. 

 LVB: There has been a lot of effort being put into getting young people interested in manufacturing careers, are you seeing progress? 

Hobbs: Yes, we are seeing progress, but a lot of this is difficult to measure. Qualitatively we are seeing more activity in the middle and high schools, but how much of this directly translates into manufacturing careers is a challenge to measure. 

 LVB: What are some of the challenges ahead for manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley and how is the MRC helping them address those challenges? 

Hobbs: The main challenge is continuing to fill the pipeline for new workers and to retain the ones you already have! Simple to say, but much harder to do. Right behind the workforce challenges are the supply chain issues talked about earlier in this Q&A. The MRC continues to offer targeted trainings, consulting and coaching guidance, along with a suite of workforce initiatives (What’s So Cool About Manufacturing, The Dream Team, STEAM Club, apprenticeship opportunities) to help manufacturers through these two significant challenges. 

Lehigh Valley manufacturers promote tech hub

Richard Hobbs

Rich Hobbs, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center recently spoke on behalf of manufacturers at a virtual roundtable discussion hosted by Rep. Susan Wild, D-Allentown, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimond.  

The roundtable was not only a listening session for the government officials but also an update on the pending bipartisan legislation known as the Innovation Act/American Competes Legislation. 

“Congresswoman Wild is a champion for manufacturing and for those of us that live and work in the Lehigh Valley. One of the bills she introduced this congress is the Regional Innovation Act of 2021 that supports the development of Innovation Hubs in communities just like ours,” said Hobbs. “It was a perfect opportunity to convey to the congresswoman and secretary of commerce how a Regional Tech Hub in the Lehigh Valley can benefit manufacturers and how policy makers can help manufacturers to compete and succeed globally.” 

Other manufacturers that fielded questions at the roundtable included Mike Lovati, head of group purchasing for North America, Mack/Volvo; Darrell Engel, senior director of global manufacturing and Allentown site leader for Infinera and Ed Blair, president of Lutron Electronics Co. Inc. 


22 professionals graduate from Manufacturing Leadership Institute


The Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley is celebrating the graduation of its Manufacturing Leadership Institute Class of 2022. 

Rich Hobbs, president & CEO of the MRC, presented each graduate with a Certificate of Graduation. This MLI Class of 2022 has 22 members employed by all sized manufacturers located in Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Schuylkill, and Luzerne counties. 

 “We created the Institute in 2006 in partnership with Lehigh University to develop and enhance the leadership skills of our region’s current and emerging leaders,” Hobbs said. “Testimonials from participants are transformational, prompting manufacturers to continue to invest in their management through MLI.  It continues to be a valuable experience for everyone and creates lasting business relationships over the five months of the course and beyond.” 

The Institute’s experts teach Organizational Leadership & Culture, Creating the Right Vision, Creativity & Innovation, Strategic & Operational Decision Making, Sales Strategies, Strategic Financial Management, CI Culture Transformation, and Supply Chain Management   

The network of alumni consists of presidents and vice presidents, operations & plant managers, CEOs, and CFOs and up and coming management.  

To date, the institute has graduated over 300 individuals from 150 manufacturers. 


Middle schoolers recognized in state-wide ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?’ contest

Students participate in the statewide ’What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?’ contest. PHOTO/SUMBITTED –

“What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” has announced the award recipients for the annual “Best of PA” Statewide Awards Event.  

The awards show was held at Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. The contest included 22 student teams competing for first, second and third place awards, as well as a Viewer’s Choice award. 

 Organized by the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley, which began the first regional event, a A five-judge panel, representing eastern, central, and western Pennsylvania, viewed the 22 entries, which represented eight regional contests across Pennsylvania and a total of 113 student videos, to select the statewide award recipients. 

The goal of the annual contests is to get middle school students interested in careers in manufacturing. 

 “All of the student teams worked so hard on their videos and had memorable interaction with their manufacturing partners, and we are so excited and proud to celebrate the Best of PA videos,” said Karen Buck, manager of Workforce Initiatives Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) and WSCM Statewide program manager. “The continued success of the What’s So Cool program validates its effort to promote manufacturing career pathways and STEM (Science Technology and Math) and CTE (Career Technical Education) statewide and nationwide, and to help plan for a robust economic future.” 

 First place went to Eyer Middle School in Macungie, which produced a video featuring BlueTriton Brands. 

Second place went to Northeast Middle School in Bethlehem, which produced a video featuring Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. 

Third place was a tie between Conrad Weiser Middle School in Robesonia, which featured F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc. and Bangor Area Middle School, which featured L&M Fabrication & Machine. 

Springhouse Middle School in South Whitehall Township, which featured Stanley Black & Decker, was recognized for garnering the largest number of regional vote totals across the state, during three days of online voting where all Pennsylvania teams competed to win their regional Viewer’s Choice Award. 

 The student video contest has garnered over 3 million combined votes by the public during regional online voting dates since its inception in 2013, and more than 50% of Pennsylvania school districts have participated in the program. 

The WSCM Student Video Contest gives students the opportunity to interact with local manufacturers as they gain new perspectives about careers and advanced manufacturing technologies, record their experiences, and present them in an educational and “cool” way through documentary video production.  

The “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” program includes a Pennsylvania Department of Education approved lesson plan that is in use across the state. 


Springhouse, Bangor top ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing Awards

Screenshot of Springhouse Middle School’s Viewer’s Choice video for Stanley Black & Decker. –

More than 1,000 people packed into SteelStacks in Bethlehem to learn “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing,” and to learn the results of the annual video contest that pairs middle school students with 28 Lehigh Valley manufacturers to promote careers in manufacturing. 

The student videos received 128,620 votes over a three-day voting period to determine the viewer favorite, but a number of awards were given out to the student-created videos. 

Voting determined the Viewer’s choice award and went to Springhouse Middle School for its video on Stanley Black & Decker. 

Outstanding Overall Program as voted on by judges was Bangor Area Middle School for its video on L&M Fabrication & Machine. 

Other winners were: 

Outstanding Editing: J.T. Lambert Intermediate School – Lehigh Valley Plastics 

 Outstanding Creativity: Northeast Middle School – Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. 

 Outstanding Cool: Northampton Area Middle School – ABEC 

Outstanding Team Spirit: Northern Lehigh Middle School – Piramal Critical Care, Inc. 

Outstanding Educational Value (TIE): Broughal Middle School- Lehigh Heavy Forge Corporation 

Outstanding Educational Value (TIE): Nazareth Area Middle School- Orbel Corporation 

Outstanding Videography: Eyer Middle School-BlueTriton Brands 

 Outstanding Outreach Plan: Saucon Valley Middle School HindlePower, Inc. 

Outstanding Career Pathway: Lower Macungie Middle School- Solar Technology, Inc 

 Outstanding Brand Placement: Penn-Kidder Campus- B.T.M. Incorporated 

Sweet Manufacturing Cupcake Award Winner: Career Institute of Technology 

“The student video contest is gaining more and more momentum every year. The combination of the way this creative program is structured, the hard work of the students, teachers and manufacturers and the excitement within the community make the WSCM contest a unique experience and an effective career awareness program,” said Rich Hobbs, president and CEO at the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley, which organizes the event.