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Manufacturing Still Alive and Well in Lehigh Valley, Symposium Participants Say

By Colin McEvoy on October 8, 2015

Don Cunningham speaking to a crowd of nearly 300 people at the Lehigh Valley Business Manufacturing Symposium.

Don Cunningham speaking to a crowd of nearly 300 people at the Lehigh Valley Business Manufacturing Symposium.

The misconception that manufacturing is dead, both in the Lehigh Valley and in the United States in general, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

That was one of the messages at the Lehigh Valley Business Manufacturing Symposium on Oct. 7, where nearly 300 people gathered for a discussion about workforce development, new technology, additive manufacturing, and the future of this vibrant and growing industry.

Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), noted that the Lehigh Valley’s GDP has risen to $35.4 billion for 2014, and that the manufacturing subcategory in particular rose 4.1 percent over the previous year.

“We too often hear that manufacturing is on the decline, and often that’s driven by people looking at employment numbers, but if you actually look at economic output numbers, manufacturing is tremendously on the rise, particularly in the Lehigh Valley,” Cunningham said. “We are consistently over the last five years been the fastest growing metropolitan region in Pennsylvania.”

Gina Kormanik, director of business development with the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board (LVWIB), said manufacturing jobs are up almost 200 from last year, and that 30,783 of the Lehigh Valley’s roughly 283,000 workers are employed in that sector. The manufacturing industry also boasts one of the region’s highest yearly wages at $69,992.

Earlier this year, LVEDC and LVWIB partnered on the formation of a comprehensive new study unveiled last month assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Lehigh Valley’s workforce. The resulting strategic plan, conducted by Oxford Economics in July, will inform the creation of the LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council, which will take action on some of the study’s recommended strategies.

The LVB Manufacturing Symposium, held at the Allentown Fairgrounds, featured representatives from some of the Lehigh Valley’s biggest manufacturers, including Peter Ruggiero, executive vice president of global operations with Crayola; Ross Born, co-CEO of Just Born; and Rex Boland, vice president and general manager at B. Braun Medical Inc.

Ruggiero discussed how Crayola has transformed its global supply chain, added automation technology to its manufacturing processes, and increased the amount of manufacturing it does domestically to improve control and production flexibility.

“You can take the easy approach and take everything to Asia because that’s what your shareholders want or your boss wants, because they think it’s the right answer,” he said. “Or you can take a different approach and start saying ‘It’s up to us.’ It’s up to us to look responsibly at what the total cost of this thing is, what we can invest in this thing, and we can rejuvenate manufacturing in the base of the United States of America, because it is a competitive advantage for all of us.”

Jack Pfunder, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center, discussed the organization’s student video competition, entitled “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?,” as well as the “Pennsylvania Dream Team,” a group of young people working in Lehigh Valley manufacturing jobs who use video shoots of their daily work lives to inform and educate about the regional industry.

Boland discussed the importance of having a strong feeder program for the region’s manufacturing workforce. He noted that the average age of 1,200 employees at the B. Braun facility is 51, creating challenges as the baby boomer generation retires. Boland also said the perception that students must attend a four-year college, rather than a two-year technical school, must be broken.

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